I’ve seen it too many times in these rooms. Some young thing will come in a little late, usually wearing a hat down over his eyes or maybe a hoodie to hide himself. He’ll be here because it got too bad. Maybe some girl kicked him out or he lost his job somebody got him as a favor. Maybe the court said he had to come. He’ll come in lookin’ for a place to sit all by himself. He won’t look at any of us, won’t catch anyone’s eye. He’ll slide into some metal foldin’ chair and stretch out his legs long and cross ‘um at the ankles, like he doesn’t need any of us here at this meetin’. He’ll wear a nice, expensive pair of sneakers, even if his jeans got some wear to ‘um. He’s cool like that.
Someone will call the meetin’ to order at the top of the hour and commence the welcome. They’ll read the steps, pass ‘um around the circle and everyone will read one. When someone hands him the list, he won’t know what to read and someone will point to the spot. He’ll clear his throat. He didn’t know he’d be talking out loud. “And when we were wrong, promptly admitted it,” he’ll say from underneath his hoodie and pass the paper along, shakin’ and hoping no one notices. He’ll never admit he was wrong, he thinks. He’s not like everyone else. He’ll come maybe once or twice and that’s it, just to say he did this.
Then the sharing starts. Somebody wanted to drink really bad the night before. He went out with his buddies and drinkin’ a damn Coke just felt wrong. Not in a bar with the game goin’ on and everyone havin’ fun. But he knew he shouldn’t have even been there at the bar with his buddies. He’s not ready to be there. Maybe he’ll never be ready. But he backslid and drank heavy. Then he threw up in his car and in his kitchen sink and in his bed. It was bad, worse than ever.
Everyone’s nodding. “Keep coming back,” they say when he’s done sharin’. Someone else shares, doesn’t say too much, just shows us his shakin’ hands and says he’s five days sober and it’s the best and worst five days he’s ever had. Again everyone’s nodding and sayin’ to come back. Around the circle the stories go, all ones I’ve heard again and again. Someone’s trying to stay on the wagon and someone’s fallen off. Someone’s finally got a job and someone just got busted. Some girl’s just got her license back after losing it for another DWI. Next time she’ll be doin’ time.
The kid is lookin’ more interested now. He’s come out of his hood just a little bit. He’s listenin’ to the stories. That’s not him, of course, but it’s pretty damn familiar. It could have been him, but it’s not. He’s okay. He’s gonna stop, probably tonight, right after the game. I’ve seen it hundreds of time. “We’re glad you’re here,” everyone says to him after the meeting. They shake his hand and offer him a cup of coffee.
We won’t see him for weeks and then one night, he’ll be walkin’ in here and choosin’ his chair, the one he’ll be findin’ himself in every week for a while. Because truth is, he couldn’t stop boozin’ by himself. Truth is, he’s starting to shake and he’s not sure he can say no to his buddies in the bar. He’s gotten himself into trouble again and nobody’s buyin’ his story that it was the other guy’s fault. Too many times they’ve heard that story and still nobody’s buyin’ it. So here he is, listenin’ for the first time, like his life depends on it. Because it does.
“Listen,” I say to him a couple of weeks later, because he’s spotted me and he’s been listenin’ to me. When I share, I speak my truth, how I messed up my whole life, at least most of it, before I found the rooms. How I lost my wife and one son, who won’t have nothin’ to do with me. My younger boy, well, he’ll call me once in a while. “Listen,” I say. “Keep puttin’ yourself in that chair every Friday night. Keep yourself some Coke in your frig and put that phone list from here on the frig door. And call me every other day for the next two months.”
He’s all on board for right now. He’s scared. He doesn’t want to be like us, like me. So he’ll call me every so often for a month or so and then he’ll disappear again. Like he’s got this. Like he’s gonna be okay. And then he’s gonna discover something we all learned. There’s a trap door in the floor, and maybe another one beneath that one. It’s the way we all go down, right through that trap door and through another subfloor under that one. Until we finally hit bottom.
Take a look around. We all found those doors, fell right through ‘um. The name is the same on every door. It’s got a big sign on it that says, “Not me.” I’m tellin’ you straight. We all go through that door ‘til we’re ready to hear what the Good Lord has to say to us. He’s saying, “Welcome son, I’m just glad you’re here.” I know he sayin’ it. He’s been sayin’ it to me for over 35 years now. I remember those shakes, those buddies in the bar, the bed sheet full of my spilled guts. But most of all I remember those trap doors. They get us every time. Best doors I ever went though.