Thursday, August 21, 1992
It took a moment for me to react to Joe asking me to chair the meeting. I was familiar with meetings, but I didn’t know shit about them. It felt wrong, like I was the last person on the planet who should do it. The look in his eyes was too much to say no to, though. I hemmed and hawed a bit, and then said, “sure.”
“Oh thank God.” He hugged me, shouted over to a woman standing by the butt can. “Hey, Kerry. Scott’s gonna chair the meeting!”
“Who the fuck is Scott?”
I shyly waived at her, embarrassed smile and all.
“He just got here! How much…” She shook her head. “Fuck it, Joe. You gotta call a special business meeting, and me and Jeff gotta get outta here and get the kids.” She didn’t look at us as she went in the building.
“It’s ok, man,” Joe said, as if reassuring me. I was too spun and confused to grasp it, let alone care that I might not be the Chair. Heck, I had thirteen days, and the only thing I knew was a didn’t know what I was getting into.
Joe began the meeting. “Oh yeah, I forgot. Is there anyone attending this meeting for the first time?”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” complained Kerry, but with a smile. She laughed. “We love you, Joe. Okay…” She turned toward me, an impish gleam in her eyes as she tried to look serious but couldn’t fight the grin. She was rail-thin, with tight, curly hair. Her voice raspy from cigarettes, though she was probably younger than I was. “…what’s you’re name, and welcome to the Dixon Hope Group.”
The room was filled with applause and laughter. Stray hands patted me on the back, and Kerry walked over and gave me a hug while I was sitting, trying to take it all in.
‘Hi, I’m Scott. Alcoholic/Addict…”
“ALCOHOL IS A DRUG,” the group chanted in unison.
I stared, confused.
The guy next to Kerry, Jeff I figured, explained it. “Alcohol is a drug. We don’t see it different from any other. But, we’re glad you’re here, brother.”
“Oh, yeah. Ok. Anyway, I’m Scott and I have thirteen days today.”
How seven people can erupt eludes me, but erupt they did. Someone pulled me to my feet, long hugs and claps. Tears came to my eyes, and others’ as well. Finally they settled in to the meeting.
“Okay, well then.” Joe took control of the meeting. “We need to have a special business meeting tonight to…”
“I move we end the meeting now.” I turned to see who spoke, but only saw a guy with glasses staring at the floor behind me.
“I second.” I had no idea who was doing what.
Joe seemed to know what was happening. “Anyone opposed?”
“Okay then. Do we have a motion to call a special business meeting?”
“Motion, “ said Jeff.
“Second,” said a girl sitting at the side, by the windows.
“Okay then. I nominate Scott to be the Chair of the Thursday meeting of Dixon Hope Group.”
“Second,” said Kerry, surprising me.
“Okay. So, uh. I’ve been doing this for about, I dunno, forever and…”
“Keep coming back, “ someone said.
“Uh huh,” Joe laughed. “So, look, uh…we’ve gotta guy here Scott. He says he’s willing to take over this meeting.”
“How much clean time do you have?” I couldn’t tell if Kerry liked me or hated me. She confused me.
“Thirteen days,” stammered.
“Look, I’m not against you. I just think it’s very irresponsible to to put this on someone under 60 days. Do you even know what’s involved?” She looked serious, sitting rigidly. She turned back to stare at Joe.
Everyone looked at me. Friendly, but waiting for my answer.
“Well, I know we open the meeting. Set up the chairs, make the coffee. Keep the doors open.” I thought about the closed church, the dark meeting, that got me here.
“See, that’s what I’m worried about. You run the meeting. You have to get speakers, make sure the meeting is open. You have to show up, every Thursday. It’s too much for a newcomer.”
“I dunno,” Jeff broke in, looking uncomfortable. “I don’t think it’s that much. We’re pretty small, and we can all help.” He paused for a moment. “Do you have a sponsor?”
“Not really. I mostly go to AA…”
Kerry let out an aggravated sigh. “See? This is bullshit.” She shook her head, her right foot tapping.
I looked at Joe for a response- I didn’t ask for this.
Joe looked unsure for a moment. He pursed his lips, looked like he was struggling, perhaps surprised that his chance to hand the meeting over was getting resistance. Then, he looked up, smiled. “You know what, I think it’s a good idea to have Scott leave the room so we can talk about this.”
The members nodded and murmured in agreement.
“Okay, Scott. Could you give us some time?”
I nodded, still confused. But I also felt a jolt, a sense of excitement. I might not understand what was going on, but I did understand that this was some sort of fight, and that I could relate to. Not physical: I hadn’t been in one of those since I could remember. But it was an argument, and that I understood.
It felt…good. It had been so long since I felt this, and I felt alive. I also knew that I wanted this now.
“Sure thing. I’ll be out front.”
The smoke and taste of the Kool Mild reminded me how badly I wanted one. I took long drags, holding it almost like a hit of weed as the nicotine pulled-off its trick of calming me down and revving me up at the same time. More quickly than I realized, I lit another with the butt of the first, which went into a rusty can with a painted NA symbol on it. I absently picked up more butts scattered about the lot.
I looked around, noticed the late August sun taking a slightly orang hue and felt a brief touch of cool breeze whispering that Fall was coming. Summer might quit digging its claws in, soon.
I walked across the parking lot, looking more closely at the brick facade of the small school. I thought about the childrens’ pictures on the walls in the meeting room, mostly depicting Baby Jesus and aphorisms of faith, realizing that it was some sort of religious school. But not a church, I figured.
The motorcycles were gone, although I couldn’t remember who exactly had left. There actually seemed to be more people right now, a couple more cars in the lot. Funny, how I hadn’t noticed these things.
Lighting a third smoke, I thought back on other meetings I’d been to, trying to remember the first NA meeting. I couldn’t remember exactly, but I did recall seeing NA signs as early as college, around 1981. I let the memory come up, and the first call I’d made about weed.
It came to me, a little more clearly. I was smoking daily, graduating from pipes and joints to a bong in my dorm room. I tried, every day, not to smoke. I never made it past two hours. I vaguely remember calling someone…who was that?
Buff! I called Buff, the woman who lived across from the camera shop my parents owned back in my hometown of Fremont, Ohio. I couldn’t recall why I called her, except she was a close friend of the family. She told me not to worry, that pot wasn’t addictive…
My reverie was interrupted by new but by now familiar voice. Kerry tapped me on the shoulder, gave me a hug when I turned around.
“Congratulations, you’re the new Secretary for the meeting. I’ll meet you next week, early,” she emphasized, “to help you set-up.”
“I voted against it, but not against you. It’s too soon but we need you. I’ll help for the next two weeks, and Joe already has speakers lined up through October.” She poked me on the shoulder, like an old friend. “But you gotta get to meetings. And for fuck’s sake get an NA sponsor who carries an NA message. Okay? Let’s go in…”
She turned, not giving me any time to respond. I wasn’t willing to let that happen. “Hold on a second. I’m not sure what you’re talking about, an “NA Message.” isn’t it all recovery?”
Kerry looked exasperated, her gaunt face stretching even thinner. “We’re not AA. AA is concerned with alcohol, and only that. We’re about addiction, all drugs. We have our own meetings, literature and way of doing things because AA doesn’t deal with our shit, the real shit, of addiction.”
“You sound like you hate AA.”
“I don’t hate them, and honestly I don’t give a fuck what they do or why they do it. All I know is once we start introducing AA secretaries, AA speakers and AA anything, we create a mixed message and it gets confusing, especially for the newcomer.” She gave me a pointed look.
“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t do this…”
“I’m not saying that, either.” She laughed for a second. “Okay, maybe I am. I’m not okay grabbing the first shaking and baking newcomer off the street and having them run the meeting. But the Group Conscience doesn’t see it that way. I just wanna see that the meeting keeps going and make sure it’s an NA meeting. That’s really what it comes down to, and if you’re the fucking guy then I’m behind you. I just try to work an honest program. I think you got some fuckin’ work to do, and you’re gonna need some fuckin’ help.”
“Yeah, no shit.” At that she laughed, gave me another quick hug. “Let’s get back in there before I light another cigarette. Okay?”
When Kerry looked pissed, she looked pissed. But when she smiled, her face lit up. They both seemed to happen at the same time. For whatever reason, I really liked her. She was intense but she also seemed sincere.
“Yeah, guess we outta.”
Once we walked in the room, everyone started talking to me at once with Joe standing behind them, mouth opening and closing, trying to get a word in.
A loud “HEEEEYYYYY” overcame the din. I turned and saw Jeff, red-faced and sheepish. He joked, “I guess we’re excited, huh?”
“Okay then.” Joe asserted himself, and I looked at him as if for the first time. Definitely older than me, and most of the room. He had short, grey, curly hair balding up top. He wore a loose Hawaiian shirt, well-worn and faded jeans with leather sandals. He’d been the first person to greet me, months ago when I went to AA after an embarrassing night with Pam. I’d thought he was trying to hit on me, he was so friendly. He was soft-spoken, and clearly didn’t like to assert himself, yet he always seemed to be in the thick of things and helping.
“So, yeah. I’m taking a break for a while.” He paused as the members laughed. “We have a plan though, so you just have to show up.”
“And don’t use between meetings!,” someone behind me added.
“That’s the idea,” I said, to nods of approval.
Joe looked over my shoulder, at Kerry, who added, “Between the two of us, Jeff and me’ll show up early and get ya started. We have, like six,” she looked at Joe, who nodded, “speakers lined up. At least 3 of them will show. Where do you go to meetings at?”
“Mostly here in Dixon, “ I said. “But I plan on hitting others this week.”
“There’s one close to here, in Davis tomorrow night. It’s like ten minutes away,” Stephen said. “I’ve been there a couple a’ times. We usually get people from Vacaville up here, so new speakers would be nice.”
I froze for a second, shut the frozen fear off by reminding my self that I wanted this. The idea of driving there, most likely at night freaked me out. This was one of those moments: how serious was I? Thinking back over the past month, I felt pretty serious.
Joe stepped in with more info. “So, we have our business meeting on the last Tuesday of the month. Can you make it?”
I though for a moment. Tuesday was the AA meeting, already part of my schedule. I guessed my schedule would have to be in pencil for a while.
“I think so. What time does it start?”
“Right after the regular meeting. Kerry runs it for now, and the Tuesday meeting.”
I glanced at her, and she nodded.
“Yeah, I can do it. That’s next week, right?”
“Yep. Okay, then.” He looked at his watch. “Wow, it’s like almost eight-thirty. We should wrap this up.” Someone gave him a sheet of paper, which he glanced at and gave to me.
“This is all our phone numbers. Well, the guys and Kerry, since she’s gonna help.” He explained without me asking, “We usually don’t give guys the girls’ numbers, or the other way. Keeps things simple.”
“No shit,” someone chimed in. I think her name was Lisa.
“I’m Stephen and I’m an addict.” The guy I’d noticed earlier, in the back, interrupted.
“Hi Stephen,” everyone repeated. He was tall, with greying black hair parted to the side. He wore thick glasses, stared down at the floor when he spoke in a slow, deliberate way.
Stephen continued, “I move we close the meeting, some of use need to get home and get some sleep. You can sort out details later.”
A chorus of “second,” followed.
Joe grinned. “Alrighty, I’ll take that as unanimous. Let’s close in the usual way.”
Everyone made. A circle, arms draped over one another’s shoulders.
“Stephen, will you take us home?”
“You won’t fit in my car,” he quipped. “Sorry. Take…,” he paused and the rest of the group joined in “… my will and my life, guide me in my recovery, and show me how to live.” There was a scattering of ‘amen’ after that. I’d never heard that prayer before: usually I heard the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting. I liked it.
“What was that?” I asked after we separated.
“That’s the Fifth Step Prayer,” someone said.
“Do you have a Basic Text?” That came from Jeff
I shrugged, then shook my head.
Joe grabbed one off the table, which held other books and pamphlets. “They’re only six bucks.”
“Six-fifty,” corrected Kerry.
“Oh, yeah. You wanna buy one?”
I shrugged again. “Sure.” I fished a ten out of my wallet, handed it to him. He gave me the book, walked to a cabinet and counted out some change.
“Thanks,” I said. “Hey, I gotta get going. You gonna to be at the meeting tomorrow night?”
“Sure” he said, walked to me and handed me some change.
I waived at everyone, feeling a need to get out of there before anything else came up. I walked out, barely hearing the replies. I lit a smoke, instantly felt better, actually felt a slight buzz.
I stared at the book before I started the old Corolla. The book was thin but heavy, a glossy blue book cover with a simple NA logo in the upper left with Narcotics Anonymous written in white along the bottom. I opened to a random page, read something about not being able save you life and your ass at the same time, and smiled. This I could relate to.
Driving home was simple enough, a single left turn then straight ahead for maybe 2 miles. I drove past Sam’s place, craned my neck to see if I could get a glimpse of her, Nope. She was never sitting on her front steps, waiting for me. I felt the loss of her, wondered how she was doing. I felt the sharp jolt of shame, recalling our last phone call. “Don’t ever fucking call me again,” repeated in my mind over and over.
I got home, went to the room, checked the answering machine: no messages. I felt bummed.
I opened the Basic Text, randomly reading parts of pages: I couldn’t read entire ones yet, let alone a whole book. The tone of the writing was totally different than AA and sometimes flowery, quaint style of pre-WWII books. It felt newer somehow. I put the book down, noticed that I hadn’t been thinking about Sam very much until I drove past her place. And then I thought all about her until I looked at the clock, saw 10:07 staring at me in red-lettered judgement.
Where I felt tired an hour ago, sleep now felt miles away. I grabbed my soap and shampoo, walked to the back to take a shower. I thought about how, just three weeks ago, I’d gotten sick in this room and had to clean up after losing control of my bowels. And now I was the secretary for an NA meeting. My, how things had changed. It seemed ironic that I only found the meeting after getting lost, and the first thing I heard was if I wanted to take it over. Weird…
I ran the water hot over my face, noticing the beginning of a headache, the kind that had started to plague me over the past year or so. It seemed to back off, and my thoughts returned to Sam. I fantasized she was in the shower with me, and then it became like a memory of something that never happened, in a hotel somewhere else. I then ‘remembered’ her standing in a vineyard in what must have been Napa, her brown hair flowing as I looked into the hazel of her eyes. She was wearing a tight-fitting white shirt that tied in the back, which as popular in the 80’s. I imagined a golden sunset, and as the amber hues became more saturated, her hair turned blonde…
I snapped myself out of it. It seemed so real, but we’d never gone anywhere near those places. I wanted it to be real, so bad I could feel it in my toes. The experience shook me a bit. I shut the water off, dried myself quickly with the towel. I didn’t bother to blow-dry my hair, opted to air dry.
I got back to the room, 10:47 staring at me with accusatory bluntness. I quickly tried to lay down, close my eyes, which bolted open almost on their own. I rolled over, then over again, wakefulness hanging on like a vicious claw, just like it had just two weeks ago. I felt the panic, began controlling my breathing. Slow in, slow out.
I closed my eyes, pictured myself swimming in deep, black water, so far down if felt like falling forever. A dolphin appeared, joined me, and I swam with her. Further and further down until eventually we reached bottom and the beginnings of sleep on the softly undulating sea floor.