Thursday, April 30, 2015

Z is for Zeal

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Y is for Year

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

Cole turned the coin over in his hand once more and stared at it, then with a flick of his wrist sent it flying onto the table where it landed with a loud clink.  It bounced once, twice and on the third turned as if it would start spinning but then fell, finally landing on its side.  Ted almost reached for it mid-bounce, a token so precious it hurt him to see it tossed aside so carelessly.  But he kept his hands in his lap until it settled.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Cole asked.  The gesture had been careless but the words held far more emotion. 

Ted inhaled deeply and said "That's what I have to offer you."  Now he picked up the coin and gave it a serious look.  "You get this coin in the program when you've been sober one year- so that's what I'm offering.  My sobriety, and everything that comes with it."

"And what's that?"  He was nervous.  Ted could hear it in his voice.  He wouldn't let on on the outside- but it was clear in the question.

"Honesty, for one.  Not being a miserable bastard, for another.  Christ, Cole- I know what I did to you was... you know... would've put me up for the worst father in history award.  But that's not who I am."  He'd been holding it together alright until then but he couldn't fight it anymore.  His eyes burned as the first tears crept out of them and he swallowed hard, his throat convulsing.

Cole just sat and watched him with his arms folded, as if the tears pleased him.  But at the corner of his mouth a frown was forming.

"This isn't me tryng to get anything out of you- it's not a manipulation.  I wanted to talk to you because I am sorry and because I do want to be your dad in whatever capacity you'd be willing to let me be-" he cried, but then his breath caught in his throat as he realized he'd done what he wasn't meant to do.  

The request seemed to crack the facade and Cole finally let loose.  "Let you?  Let you?  I was begging for you to be a father- for years I tried everything I could possibly think of to get you to look at me like something other than a cold beer delivery system!  You think I liked driving at the age of 13 to pick you up from the bar?  You think I liked working 30 hours a week when I was still in high school when you couldn't keep a job?  And you think I killed myself in school for fun?  No!  I had to!  I had to be perfect because you were such a screw up!"  Now it was he whose eyes betrayed him with their moisture, it was his voice that attracted the attention of the lunch patrons.

Cole seemed to notice this at that moment as he shot a glance towards the onlookers.  He angrily wiped his face with both hands and then pushed himself away from the table, moving towards the edge of the booth.

"You don't get to come in here with one stupid coin and wipe away everything you've done to me!" he said as he stood- pointing a threatening finger at Ted.  Then he leaned in close as he growled out  "And you haven't earned the right to be my father."  And with that he turned and stormed out of the diner, side-stepping a waitress loaded down with trays and a small child by the door as he went. 

Ted watched him with tears flowing freely from his eyes, unaware of the other people or their concerned faces.  The sunlight on the door as it closed behind him hurt his eyes and he found himself wishing desperately for the cool, dark interior of a bar. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for xickovit

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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 waved excitedly, he couldn't help it.  He'd been so sure just a second ago that it would never happen.  But then he caught the look on Cole's face and it chased the smile away, took the life out of his wave.

Cole spotted him and moved in his direction.  It was a slow, deliberate pace and Ted half feared that any moment he would turn on a heel and walk out.  He held his breath as he approached the table, as if afraid to spook him.  But he looked less like a nervous woodland creature and more like a stalking predator, eying him as he weaved through the tables with a constant dark glare.

He seated himself across from Ted in the booth and Ted exhaled silently, trying to force his heart to slow.  He watched his son with intense curiosity, but avoided meeting his gaze directly.  Mentally he assigned sources to the physical landmarks of his face.

The high, slanted eyebrows were the trademark grace of his late wife.  The large brow mirrored his.  The jawline the firm, straight edge of his father's side.  The slender ridge of the nose her mother's side.  But it was the eyes that always got him, the same as hers.  As if looking into him, beyond the surface, ignoring any attempt at covering or downplaying the harsh reality of his actions.  He'd hated those eyes when they watched him and he wished nothing more than to avoid them now.

"We must not shrink from anything," his mind chastised.  This was what he had wanted, this was what all the phone calls and letters and months of persistence were for.  Just this moment.  He pulled his head upwards and met his gaze.

"Thanks for meeting me," he said, and forced a smile.  It felt uncomfortable and retreated from his lips almost as soon as he put it there.  But he held Cole's gaze with the softest face he could muster and waited.

Cole stared him down, as if trying to break him, then suddenly looked away.  "Didn't have much of a choice, was getting more letters from you than circulars.  Wouldn't be much room left in the mailbox by the time you got done with it."

"Yeah, sorry about that," Ted said, sheepishly.

"So what the hell do you want?" he asked, turning to look at him with a snap of his head.  This time he didn't look away but held the glare until Ted looked away, like a submissive animal.

He remembered what Stew had said- don't ask for anything, don't expect anything, just give him the space to talk.  "I, uh, I'm in this program- uh... there's these steps you take to try to be better and I..."  Now he wished he had prepared something, just an idea of some words. Something, anything more than 'uh'.  Just keep going, he told himself.

"I have to make amends to the people I've wronged so I just wanted to ask you here to tell you that I'm sorry."  There, he'd said it.  The words had come out of his mouth and the sentence was logical and concrete.  It had started.

But Cole said nothing and the silence intensified the sound of Ted's heart beating in his eardrums.  Sorry- what a useless, insignificant word.  As if that came close to the depths of his destruction.  He imagined bitter, acrid words forming in Cole's mouth and waited for their impact, his muscles tensing involuntarily.  But still he said nothing and he couldn't help but peak at his face to see what was causing the delay.

Cole had pursed his lips in slanted sort-of way, as if his apology were chewing tobacco and he were holding it between his cheek and teeth, letting it sink in.  He wanted desperately to say something, to beg him to talk, but he waited.  He kept reminding himself to breath.

"And what brought this on?" he finally asked.

Ted opened his mouth but closed it before making a sound.  How to explain years of recklessness and waste?  How to sum up a lifetime- Cole's lifetime- of hurtful living?  How the hell to try to explain what his bottom looked like, let along to do it in a way that didn't sound like he was bucking for sob story of the year.

"In the program we call it being sick and tired of being sick and tired, if that makes any sense.  Just... giving up."  Again, he held his breath and then released it in one slow exhale.

"You know I hate you, right? Cole asked.

It wasn't what Ted had expected.  He hadn't spat the words at him and he wasn't staring him down now- his expression looked as if he asked a far more innocuous question, like "Can you pass the ktechup" or "Do they have pancakes here?"  And he realized it wasn't meant to hurt him, not really- it was just a statement of fact.

"I know that," Ted said.  "And I earned that.  And I know there's nothing I can do to make the past not happen- I can't give you your childhood back, I can't make it right.  But I just wanted you to know that I know that- I am aware of my actions.  And anything, whatever I can do to-"

"To what?" Cole interrupted.  This time his eyes were wide and angry.  "You weren't a father back then so you want to be a father now?  Now that I don't need you anymore?  Is that it?"

Ted watched his son's face and the pain he saw there nearly tore him apart.  It ached in his chest with a heaviness he thought he'd never be able to lift, especially not with a few broken words.  But he was sick of feeling that way every time he thought of his son, and that unwillingness to continue living like this is what drove his next move.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the coin he'd been turning around in his fingers the whole time and placed it face up on the table.  It was his one year anniversary coin and the triangle carved into the mold caught the glint of the light.  Cole grabbed it as if it were a bug, slapping his hand down on it and pulling it off the table.  He looked at it, turned it over in his hands.  Ted couldn't read his expression, which he took as a promising sign.

"So what, you're a coin collector now?" he asked, a wry smirk hinted at through words rather than by mouth.

"Sort of," Ted said, and smiled.

Monday, April 27, 2015

W is for the Wait

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

V is for Visit

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"That was rough," Stew said as they sat down at their new usual table. " I can't remember the last time I saw somebody beat up on themselves that much. Honestly, if he wasn't in the hospital already I'd be concerned for his well being."

Ted nodded consent.  "Important thing is that he made it there- could've been so much worse.  You heard from anybody else?"

"Yeah, Jim went to see him yesterday- I worry about that kid but he's in the meetings everyday so as long as he sticks to it he'll get through.  Jared was saying something about going tomorrow- I get the feeling he's gonna recommend a change of sponsor when he gets out which I think it the best plan.  I talked to Ethan about him and expressed my concerns and he talked to him, I think he recommended he take a little break until things get a little more settled with work and he has the time to devote to it."

"Yeah, screw-ups like us are a full time job all on our own," Ted laughed.  

"You're not so bad- but the young ones like Scott, they're a bit of a challenge."

"You trying to say I'm not challenging?  Because I take offense to that," Ted smiled at him.

"Like that right there, the fact that you can joke around with me when your son is coming to see you- to actually physically lay eyes on you and speak words to you, in person in- what?  Two days?  That's what makes you easier."

"Give it two days," Ted said, his smile gone.

"You never showed me the letter that got him to respond," Stew probed.

"I don't think it was that letter, per say- I think it was just writing so many that finally led to him relenting.  I just talked, like you said.  I stopped asking for things."

"That's gonna be a big thing when you talk to him- don't ask him anything.  Don't ask him to forgive you, don't ask if you can see him regularly, don't expect him to let you into his life in anyway outside of that meeting," Stew said.  "And I want you at no less than 3 meetings that day- you go that morning before you come here, you hit one right after- and I mean right after, and you go that night."

The waitress- the young girl with the name tag that read "Sally" and red streaks in her otherwise dirty-blond hair came by and dropped off menus.  "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Sure, I'll just take a coke," Ted said absentmindedly.

"And you?" she asked turning to Stew.

"Coffee- Alice working tonight?"

"Um, I don't know- I can check," she said.

"Thanks," Stew said and smiled at her.

"Why do you care?" Ted asked, noticing the strange smile.

"Huh?  She's just nice is all.  Anyway, even if you're hearing the same thing over and over again I want you hearing it."

"And what if he makes me wait all day?" Ted asked, making a mental note to come back to his fixation on the loud-mouthed waitress later.

"Then we'll make the meetings come to you," Stew said.  "You know we won't leave you here alone."

Ted nodded, looking down at his hands and frowning. Something about the sight made he feel uncomfortable so he reverted to his favorite activity of people watching.  The late afternoon crowd was a different kind-of animal and gave the diner a completely different look.  He reflected on how changing customers was sort-of like changing clothes- casual for the afternoon, dressy in the evenings, disheveled and worn at night.  He found himself wondering what it looked like in here on Halloween and thought for a moment that he should make it a point to find out.  "So what do I say?"

"I don't think you should prepare too much- you make up a script for yourself and you're gonna stick to it and he might not talk.  He said he'd meet you, so just give him the space to talk.  Don't be inpatient, don't ask too many questions, just give him the room to say what he came to say."

"And what if that's 'I hate you, I never want to see you again, stop writing me letters and go off and die somewhere' or something like that?"

"Then we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Stew said.

Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Unexpected

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

On the outside, it seemed like any other piece of mail- folded paper with smudged ink.  The lettering was the familiar tilt he'd seen on the last post.  He felt the shape of it in his hands, running his fingers along the edge trying to detect the presence of something other than paper.  He hadn't sent any more pictures, but part of his mind was paranoid and had developed a whole list of worse things he might find inside.

He debated calling Stew again, or just leaving it for a time when he would have more strength.  But neither of those options seemed reasonable after the night he'd had.

They all made their way to the meeting and found enough solace there to be able to move on with their days.  Jared, young and clearly workaholic had simply gone into his job.  Jim had stayed behind, reassuring them that he just needed to keep to the clubhouse until he went home and slept.  Stew had consigned himself to bed, promising to call later and relay info about visiting hours and other relevant details.  And Ted himself had come home to find the missive mixed in with his regular mail, almost hiding amoung the more ordinary bills and circulars.

 He didn't feel serene, or zen or even courageous.  He just felt tired.  Not only physically but mentally as well.  Scott's tumble back into the darkness that was always waiting to swallow them all made him think that life really was too damned short and there really were too many important things to say not to use time for that purpose.  So he took a breath, and opened it.

He read the few brief sentences in a state of disbelief- his eyes reading the words without really comprehending them.  It took him three tries before his brain finally accepted what he read as reality: Cole was coming to visit. 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

T is for Theory

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"What do you mean?  I thought serenity was, like, happiness," Jim asked. 

Stew sighed.  If he had realized he was starting a theoretical argument he wouldn't have said anything.  Better to just let it flow, he figured.

"Not exactly.  Serenity isn't the absence of chaos but rather one's own stillness in the presence of chaos."  He was met by a table full of blank stares, even from Jared, which disturbed him as he was expecting him to chip in.  But he persevered.  "It's like, we say life on life's terms, right?"  This time he got some head nods.  "That's because we realize that shit's gonna happen no matter how well or not well we may be doing in our recovery and we're gonna have to deal with it."

"Right," Ted offered.

"So this is the same general idea- stuff's gonna happen.  Good, bad, ugly and in-between.  And it's how we respond to that stuff happening that's makes or breaks our recovery.  So serenity is just being calm despite whatever may be going on.  So you not freaking out in the midst of all this stuff happening is, by very definition, serenity," he concluded, and let out a breath.  It's had taken more mental energy than he thought he had to get that out and now he was spent.

"Huh," Ted said, looking out into nothing the way he often did.  "I never really thought about it that way."

"Yeah, I always thought that it... almost like a place, you know?  Like a state of being you reached after- I don't know- communing with god or something," Jim said.

"Not really.  It's more like... like the opposite of a trigger almost- you wait it out and it will pass.  But instead of wanting it to pass you wish you could hold onto it."

"So this isn't how i'm gonna handle everything from now on?" Ted asked, deflated.

"Nope, 'fraid not.  Give it a minute and you'll start freaking out about something else," Stew smiled at him.

"Damn," Ted said, snapping his fingers in 'aw, shucks' manner.

"Don't get too caught up in it, though- you do what you gotta do and it'll come back."

"And what's that?"

"You know, stay sober, keep working the steps, talk to your son."

"Knew you were gonna say that," Ted said, sounding tired again.  

"And just like that, it's gone," Stew teased.

The table went quiet again as the men waited for the waitress that never seemed to come, or for the hour to arrive when they could head to the clubhouse for the first meeting of the day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

S is for Serenity

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

R is for Relapse

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"Where'd you find him?"

"What happened?"

"What the hell was he thinking?"

And other questions, none of of which had good answers, if any at all.  The few answers that were provided were met with curses and exclamations of anger, confusion and hurt.  It had been a concerted effort- coordinated phone calls and  text messages and searches of places where people in recovery shouldn't be.  And in the end they found their friend in an apartment in a part of the city where newspaper headlines were born and politicians never went to.

They'd expected a fight, protests against the inevitable.  But in the end he was too tired, too worn and too beaten to argue.  He let them carry him out, load him into the backseat of the car and be driven away.  They took him to the ER, the first stop in a series of institutions- one of the holy trilogy of invariable consequence of addiction, but certainly better than jail or death.  It was the phone call to his parents that stole the little life left in his eyes.

The four of them stayed there until his parents came, and Jared took the reigns in telling them what had happened, or at least what he knew.  Scott's father had been angry, and thrown harsh accusations at Jared which were unwarranted and misplaced.  He didn't take it well and responded by shutting down.  Standing with the imposing man screaming at him he looked all too child-like and Ted had found himself thinking bad thoughts about him.  Perhaps it was easier to be angry at him for failing as a sponsor than it was to ackowledge the reality of Scott's actions and the long line of events that would follow them.

Stew tried his best to calm the yelling man, taking him outside and speaking in even, almost quiet tones.  Ted was inside, sitting next to the boy's mother who for her part sat sobbing, unable to make any sounds of speech.  Ted said whatever reassuring things he could think of, which all sounded flat to his ears.  Jim, who had found him, just sat in the uniform chair and stared out at nothing.  He had a haunted expression on his face and Ted worried that he might collapse from the sheer weight of everything.

When the doctor came out, Ted sensed Scott's mother hold her breath and instinctively placed a hand on hers.  He started talking as his dad rushed in and made eye contact directly with the man, demanding his attention and implying that any interruption would result in missed information. He used words like "stable" and "strong heartbeat" which sounded good but inserted the word "watch" too often and too passively to really allay the fears of the group.  But his parents were permitted to go in and see him before they moved him upstairs and they all took it as a good sign.

"Lets get out of here, ain't nothing more we can do," Stew had said, and pulled Jim off the chair.  The others followed, retreating from the waiting room like wounded soldiers limping back towards base.

None of them wanted to go home and Ted doubted that Jim was really safe to, anyway.  So they clung to the familiar the same way goldfish swim in circles and returned to the diner to wait for the first meeting of the morning. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Q is for Quiet

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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 sat at the booth in the corner, his new favorite spot he'd found, and thought.  His hands were once again tearing up sugar packets and his mind raced over the details of the last few days.  The last meeting he saw him at was Thursday when they'd all hit the pizza place afterwards and he'd disappeared after his phone rang.  Nothing Friday.  Nothing Saturday, and he'd texted.  Sunday he'd called twice.  Yesterday must have been... he looked through his phone- seven times.  And countless texts.  He looked through the sent messages again, scanning for a response he somehow missed, even though he knew nothing was there from having scanned it roughly every half hour today.

Stew came in looking downtrodden and tired and made his way across the room, nearly colliding with Alice due to lack of attention. 

"Whoopsy-daisy," she said as she masterfully tilted the tray to prevent everything from sliding off.  "Watch it there, sweetie."

Stew tried to apologize but she was off to her table before he could make the sound come out.  He sighed and hung his shoulders, then made his way to the table.  He sat down across from Ted and laid his phone on the table.

"Still quiet?" Ted asked him.

"Still quiet.  No word from Eric?"

"Nope- spoke to  Greg a little while ago, he said he's been putttin' feelers out in some of the meetings out near Middletown but hasn't heard anything.  And I talked to Jared- he says he can't get in touch with him, either.  He should have been more on top of that kid."

"It's not his fault.  If you relapsed do you think it'd be right to blame me?"

"If you were never around!  If I never saw you at a meeting and whenever I called you you were busy and you didn't have the time of day for me and-"

"You don't know that, Ted- slow down."

"I know he should have been there," he said, and threw the sugar packet he'd been destroying towards the corner in disgust.

"Hey, don't make a mess of my booth, now," Alice said as she came over.  "More coffee?"

"Nah, I'm good," Ted said.  "Sorry."

"And you?" she asked, raising the pot she wielded towards Stew.

"Sure," he said, and pushed the mug towards her.

"You two ordering anything today or just taking up space?" she teased as she poured.

"The latter," Ted said, dryly.

"Can I at least interest you in a piece of pie or some cream cake?  It'll help," she smiled.

"No thanks, Alice," Stew said, softly.

"What's got you two looking so damned morbid, anyway?"

"Scott's missing," Ted said, and that lost look came into eyes again.

"That sweet boy that's always followin' you two around?  What happened?"

"Don't know.  No one' seen or heard from him since Thursday."

"Well, have you called the police?" she asked, her wide eyes worried.

"Not that kind of missing," Stew said, taking her hand and giving it a quick squeeze.

Her gaze softened as she noticed the look in his eyes.  "Oh," she said.  She shot a glance at Ted and then back at Stew who just shook his head.

"Well, I'll come back in a bit to check on you," she said as she walked away.

Ted, who had been staring off into nothing and missed the interlude spoke as if he'd been having a conversation with Stew the whole time.  "I should have noticed something was off- he's never that quiet.  Me rambling on about some damned picture and him sitting there silent- I should have known."

"How are you supposed to know what's going on inside somebody else's head?  What're you, God?"

"No, don't be an ass."

"I'm not being anything- I'm just saying that you didn't do this.  Ok?  Whatever he's up to, wherever he is- you didn't put him there.  You can't blame yourself for somebody's else's problems.  Remember what we say every meeting- God, grant me the serenity to accept the-"

"Please, I'm begging you- if I hear that thing one more time-" Ted interrupted.

"Accept the things I cannot change," he raised his voice, talking over him, "courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.  This is the difference, Ted."

"I really hate you, you know that?" Ted said, glaring at him.

"Well, that's the first sane thing you've said," Stew said, and smiled at him.  At first it was a grin, wide and mean.  But as he looked at his friend it faded into something softer, more genuine.  "We'll find him."

"And if we don't?"

But Stew didn't have time to answer because just at that moment his phone rang.  He checked the screen briefly and then shoved it to his ear with a frantic "Hello?"

Ted watched his face change and it was all he could do not to grab the phone away from him.  He nodded at Stew frantically and made wild hand gestures trying to ask what the hell the other person was telling him.

Stew held up a hand bidding him to wait and said "Where?"  He nodded, said "be right there," and hung up.

"Well?" Ted asked.

"They found him, " Stew said.  

Saturday, April 18, 2015

P is for the Picture

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"What the heck is that?" Stew asked, looking over the pile as if it were a living thing that might attack if spooked.

Eric took the flat end of his fork and poked it, forcing some of the pieces to tumble.  As they spread further across the table he start to make out an image in the shards.

"It looks like-" he started.

"A photo," Ted completed the sentence.  "Of me and Cole, fishing.  When he was 6."

Everyone went silent for a long, awkward moment.  Stew watched Ted's face, concern and fear painted onto his.  Scott just stared at the pieces and waited for someone to break the silence.  Eric started pulling out shards and piecing them together as if suddenly realizing the whole thing were a puzzle and that was the most logical thing to do. 

"I think I've got the boat, anyone wanna work on the water?" he asked.

No one moved or responded but instead of noticing that the joke failed Eric got preoccupied with a genuine interest in the activity.  His shoulders hunched forward as he lowered his head to more closely examine the tiny pieces and his tongue crept out of the corner of his mouth as he concentrated.

Stew slapped Eric's hand away and gave him a warning look.  Eric opened his mouth to protest but stopped as Ted spoke again.

"You know French Creek?  Used to be you could fish down there.  I remember opening day there'd be a crowd like anything.  It was a big deal first time I took him.  You know, going and getting the license and all that- he was so excited.  We made a big to-do of the whole thing- his mom got him this whole fishing outfit and made him stand for photos," he laughed, "by the time we finally got out on the water there wasn't a fish left in the whole damned creek, I felt terrible about it.  But I don't think he even remembered."

Stew watched Ted's expression change as the memory progressed and had to resit the urge to reach across the table and snap his fingers in front of his face before his mind could go back to those dark places again.

"We were gonna do it every weekend- big plans, you know?  But then Sue died and... that was the end of it.  He tried a few times to get me to take him again, but I was never up for it.  Weekend came and I'd be passed out in bed all day.  Piece of shit."

"Hey now, that's my friend you're talkin' about there," Eric said, and smiled at him.  But Ted didn't see it, his eyes were still staring off into the memory.  "Well, you gotta give him this- he's committed."

"He get this stubbornness from you?" Stew asked , but Ted still didn't respond.  He banged the table lightly and the jolt startled Ted who shook his head and looked at him.  "Don't stay in the past, remember?  You're here now, be here."

Ted rose in his seat as the anger fueled him, "What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

"Well, for starters, we get you some food- cause that always helps," Eric said, waiving to the waitress who was placing sodas at another table. 

"And then?" Ted asked, bitterness in his voice.

"And then we'll work on the next draft together," Stew offered.  

Ted narrowed his eyes at him but Stew stared him down again.  Eventually Ted's face softened and he sighed in surrender.  "I'm gonna need some fries," he said. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

O is for Open

 Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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."

"Like what?"

"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.

" Look."  

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. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

N is for Nothing

Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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 sat there at the table, dumfounded at the task at hand.  The idea of quieting his mind when he had so many thoughts racing through it seemed about as likely as the bustling diner suddenly becoming silent.  There was too much activity, too much distraction, too much... reality.  It was impossible.

But then he thought, maybe that was exactly what he needed- distraction.  Something other than his own thoughts registering in his brain.  Maybe the attention to external world would knock something loose and grant him the epiphany he needed.  So he closed his eyes, and listened.

He heard the chaos- the typical clatter of forks scraping on thick porcelain plates and a mess of conversations bleeding into one another.  From across the room the loud ring of the cash register and coins in a plastic tray.  The scrape of a chair being pushed back from a table and a call for a refill from an impatient patron.  Closer by the clinking of ice cubes in a glass and the squeak of someone adjusting themselves on the plastic upholstery of the bench.  He found the sounds reassuring, reality marching on in spite of his uncertantainty.

As he listened he became aware of another distraction as the unmistakable scent of syrup-covered pancakes filled his nostrils.   He inhaled fully and relished the scent, imaging the fluffy texture and sticky sweetness in his mouth.  Underneath the scent of his own coffee, strong and dark and slightly acrid from being left on the burner too long.  Another scent, one he couldn't distinguish immediately, drifted by.  He focused on it and tried to place it but couldn't.  Frustration forced him to open his eyes and look around for the source of the odor.  Finally he spotted it- chicken soup landing on a table nearby as Alice placed the bowl in front of a salivating customer.

He smirked at the site and finally turned his attention back to the purpose of his auditory and olfactory excursion- the notepad app on his phone screen shone up at him, the maddeningly blank page waiting for him to start punching in letters.  He hovered his fingers over the screen and waited for inspiration to strike.  Nothing happened.

Now instead of the thoughts from before- worries about Scott, questions about Stew's judgement, the impossibility of Cole ever speaking to him, the endless pressure of day after day of responsibility and obligation- he had nothing.  A blank space in his brain that was supposed to be composing an apology or a heartfelt confession or even just a word.  A single, shitty word would have done.  But there was nothing.

"You figure out what you want, hon?" Alice interrupted him from his abyss to again try to wrestle an order from him.

He looked up at her in a daze and then blinked.  Without really thinking he said "pancakes" simply because the smell lingered in the air and he couldn't think of anything else.  She nodded and walked back towards the kitchen, leaving him again to his empty screen.

He sighed and hated himself for going completely blank when all he needed to do was start writing something, anything.  But there was nothing, nothing he could possibly say would undo the past or offer healing to the damage he'd done.  And then it hit him- nothing was exactly what he needed to say.

"I know that nothing I can ever say to you will change what has happened," he began, and his fingers jumped around the keyboard in a flurry of movement.  Finally, the words came.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M is for Meditate

Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"Anyhow, you boys ordering?" Alice asked, keeping the smile on her face in spite of her impatience.

"He is, I'm heading out," Stew said, taking a huge swig of coffee.

"What?  You're leaving me?" Ted asked. suddenly panicked at the prospect of being left alone with the task.

"I'll come back," Alice said, sensing her intrusion, and sidled away.

"You need time to think," Stew said, and swallowed the rest of his coffee.  "Geh- I gotta stop at one cup, I know better."

"No, no, no, no, no," Ted puttered, making a grab for Stew's jacket in a desperate attempt to keep him there.  "I need you to talk me through this!"

"I can't tell you what to say, you gotta figure that out for yourself.  He's your son, you're making your amends."

Ted just looked at him, his slumped posture, large eyes and slightly protruding lower lip making him look too pathetic for Stew to bare.  "Don't ask him for anything, just offer.  Let him know how you feel, what you've been working on, and then leave it.  If he responds, we'll go from there."

"And if not?"

"We'll go from there, too.

Ted nodded but still looked lost as he glanced down at his mug.  He seemed to be searching the liquid for some spark which didn't come.  Stew sighed and sat back down, drawing his attention back to him.

"What do they tell you to do when you don't know what to do?" he asked, trying to guide him without telling him.

Ted thought, his face showing the strain, and hesitated.  After a long while the spark finally came: "Pray?"

"Right, 'sought through prayer and meditation', that's how it goes.  And remember, praying is the talking part, meditating is the listening part.  So meditate, and see what comes."  Stew didn't wait for a consent but stood up again and fished out his wallet to throw a tip on the table.  "You call me when you're done, and we'll talk."

Before Ted could respond Stew turned and walked away, leaving him alone in the din of the busy diner.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

L is for the Letter

Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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 what's plan B?" Ted asked, redirecting his attention to the issue at hand.

"You're not gonna try to change the subject on me?" Stew asked, surprised.

"We came here to talk, right?  Besides, if plan B involves anything other than me calling the same number a million times with no response then I want to hear it!"

"Fair enough," Stew said, and took another sip of his coffee.  "A letter."

"What, like send him an e-mail?  I don't-"

"No, I mean an actual letter.  Like pen and paper, stamps and zipcodes, the whole nine."

"Wh- why?  I mean... yeah, why?" Ted asked, dumfounded at the suggestion of something so simple.

"Because, it's less invasive- doesn't require a response right away."

"Well, clearly neither do my phone calls- I don't understand why I'm backing off when I can't even make contact."

"That's exactly why- clearly he's not ready to talk to you.  You call and call and he doesn't call back because- well, really, who knows why?  I'm sure he's got his reasons.  But a letter?  He can just leave that sitting in a pile of mail if he wants to.  He can think about it without needing to do anything about it."

"Or he can burn it, which seems like the most likely response," Ted said flippantly.

"I don't think so, Ted.  He's your son- no matter what he's interested, at the very least.  I think you'll get a response, eventually."

Ted was about to protest again when the waitress from earlier approached, a pot of coffee in one hand and two menus in the other.

"There you are- you ran off on me," she said, dropping the menus on the table and putting her hand on her hip.  She stood with the pot of coffee hanging from her hand and her head cocked to one side in what seemed like an accusatory manner.  "What can I get you boys?"

"Alice, let me ask you a question," Stew started, not missing a beat, "when was the last time you got a letter?  Like an honest-to-God hand-written letter?  In the mail?"

Alice furrowed her brow and pursed her lips at the same time, an expression of deep though that came off more comical than contemplative.  Ted couldn't help but smile, in spite of himself.

"I think I had a pen pal in third grade.  You know, one of those classroom exchange things?  He lived in... Buffalo, I think.  Some place with a whole heck of a lot of snow," she finally announced, pride  in her voice at the recollection.  "It was fun, you know?  Gettin' all excited about the next letter and what it would say.  The anticipation, I guess.  Like waiting to open a present."

"And if you got a letter today, how would you feel about that?"

"Oh my goodness- I don't know," she laughed.   It was a melodic, lilting sound and Ted got the distinct impression it was the secret behind most of her tips.  "I think I'd be just about set to die happy."

Stew looked at Ted, folded his arms at him and said, "I rest my case."

"Alice, let me ask you this- what if the letter was from someone you didn't like, someone who hurt you?" Ted asked, challenging the point.

"Well, why are they writing?" Alice asked.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean is it a nice letter?  Or a mean letter?"

"Nice!" Stew jumped in.

"Then yes, especially yes.  Even more so, yes," Alice responded, her enthusiasm lighting her face.

"But if the person really hurt you.  Like, really, really hurt you?"

"Honey, there ain't a whole lot of letters goin' around in the world, and even fewer nice ones at that.  If someone who done something wrong to me in the past came out of the blue with a letter that they took the time to write, and it said nice things to me?  I'd be dancin' on the ceiling with happiness to see that thing," Alice concluded, that big smile back on her face as she poured more coffee into Stew's mug.

Stew for his part grinned at Ted in the most annoying way he could.   "Like I said, I rest my case."

Monday, April 13, 2015

K is for Kindness

Scenes from an American Diner: A Story in 26 Parts
All 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.

"You goin, or just gettin' out?" Jim asked, nodding towards Ted.

He suddenly felt stupid and insensitive in a way that made him hate his ability to speak and choked on the response before he could make it.  

Stew played rescuer out of impatience and spoke up saying "He meant metaphorically."

"Oh," Jim said, and shut down, his gaze returning to the empty space he'd been staring into so intently.

Ted hated himself more than he had before coming in, and hated Jim for making him feel that way, and hated himself more for hating him.  On the outside, however, he just looked down at his coffee and frowned.

"Yeah, see- they talk about stuff like that, and they teach you stuff, and you gotta listen because that's how it all starts to make sense," Scott explained, gesticulating rapidly towards Ryan as he did. 

Stew observed the man with a growing suspicion and was troubled by a feeling which grew stronger with each word he excitedly spoke.

"It's like, you realize you kind-of know it, like you've always known it- but it was buried under so much shit you never knew, sort-of," Scott said, clearly oblivious to the fact that his young protege was entirely too physically preoccupied to comprehend any of his poorly defined explanation.

Ted noticed Ryan's unsure glance around the place and felt he knew what he was looking for.

"Bathroom's are right back there," he said, nodding behind him.

Ryan craned his neck and then, seeing his salvation, lifted himself off the bench in a decidedly painful way and limped towards the bathroom.  Jim took the opportunity to remove himself from a situation he'd clearly been trying to find a way out of and said "I better get going, too."  He turned and walked out before Scott could get out any more than a plea to call him.

Seizing the opportunity Stew warned his friend with a question.  "What are you doing?"

"What?" Scott asked, a confusion on his face.

"That kid is entirely too green for you to be shoving all this stuff down his throat- you're not gonna do anything but scare him away," Stew said, doing his best to keep his voice patient, and kind.

"And Jim doesn't seem like he's entirely bought into any of this in the first place," Ted said, watching the door close behind the man.

"But I- I'm getting them hooked up.  That's what you said, right?  Get connected?" Scott said, the defensiveness clear in his voice.

"Yeah, but you gotta seek it out- remember?  You came with us, nobody dragged you here.  You asked the questions- you gotta want it yourself or else it's not gonna stick," Ted said, in a decidedly less patient tone.  "That kid needs real help, not a dime philosopher."

Scott looked down at his hands, suddenly sheepish.

"It's good that you want to help, but you gotta kind-of ease into the heavier stuff.  For now just invite him to meetings with you and Jared.  And if he wants, Jared can get him hooked up with a sponsor," Stew said.

"Talk to Jared about it," Ted said, redirecting him back to his sponsor, who should've been keeping a better eye on him anyway. 

Scott nodded, but his face showed defeat.

Stew looked at Ted, giving him a hardened expression.  Ted raised his eyebrows at him.  Stew nodded towards Scott with a vigorous jerk of his head and Ted looked at the figure next to him.  The slumped shoulders, the nervous fiddling of the hands- all the excited energy he'd come in with now drained out of him.  He couldn't take it.

He slid a tiny bit closer to him in the seat and punched his arm to get his attention.  Scott turned and looked at him. 

"This stuff's hard, you know that," he said, gently.

"I know- that's why I wanted to-"

"And you yourself are still so new to it," Ted continued, passing by the interuption without letting it affect his words.  "It's sort of a tricky balancing act in the beginning- trying to take take care of yourself while helping getting the new people hooked up.  But that's the best you can do- hook them up with people with more clean time, don't take on the burden yourself."

"But isn't that what they always say- help the newcomer?"

"Yeah, but you're not really not new yourself.  You're still in your first 90, right?" Stew asked.

"47- today," Scott said, a smile returning.

"Your parents proud of you?" Ted asked.

"My mom is!  My dad... he still doesn't trust me.  I mean, he says he's proud when my mom asks him at dinner, but the way he looks at me.  You can tell..."

"He'll come around, just keep to it," Ted added before that ghostly look could completely steal the smile.

"He coming to pick you up?" Stew asked.

"Nah, Ryan said he'd give me a ride."

"Be careful with him," Stew said, unable to ignore the suspicion he'd had since watching the way the kid moved.

Scott didn't have time to ask exactly what he meant as in that moment the subject of their conversation returned from the bathroom, looking even paler than he had when he entered.

"You ready to go?" Scott asked, standing up from the bench with a swiftness that made Ted's guilt re-emerge.

"You don't have to go," he said, even though just moments prior he'd been cursing his arrival.

"Nah, I should get home- I got a job interview tomorrow," Scott said, and the brightness was back in his eyes.

Ted smiled at him, and it was genuine.  "Knock 'em dead."

"Nice meeting you!" Stew called after Ryan as he started walking away.

The kid made a half nod to him and then started shuffling towards the door.  Scott gave a wave as he followed.  Ted watched them both leave with concern in his eyes, hoping he'd been kind enough to make up for his horrible greeting.