There was a stretch in my life where I attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on a regular basis. I am not an alcoholic and have never been but a very close friend is. One night we left the restaurant/bar I was running and where he slung drinks and he told me that he was going to a meeting in the morning. I went with him. It just seemed the right thing to do, to support him in this struggle. For the first month, I went with him every day – 30 in 30 AA members like to say. I wouldn’t say the pledge, but honored it – what I heard [there,] saw [there,] stayed [there.]
The stories were more heart wrenching than you think they would be from your television observations. The weight of the new comer’s gaze in broken but still guarded faces was heavier than any emotional weight I lifted before. As most addicts supplant one addiction for another, the coffee room was always thick with fresh plumes from too many cigarettes. I was in that room one Saturday morning smoking a JFK cigar (H. Upmann Petite Corona, if you’re curious) and scratching at the crossword puzzle when Tonya walked-in and took the seat next to mine. She had a bit of dervishness to her movement as she whirled her gym bag, purse, and book to a sudden stop on the floor.
“You’re new” she said with a hint of the derision we all reserve for the FNG.
“I’ve been coming here about month now” I replied without offense; I had grown accustomed to the friendly surliness that I learned was the standard method of greeting new AA members.
“Sober for a month, huh. I wish I could tell you it gets easier but at least you get used to it. 30 in 30 right?”
“30 in 30, sure, but I’ve been sober for about five hours now. I’m not an alcoholic; I come here to support my good friend – he’s been sober for about a month.”
“You were drinking at 3am and now you’re at a meeting just to support your friend? You sure that’s the only reason?”
“Not only was I drinking at 3am, I was still working until 5am to close the place, and yeah the only reason I am here on ninety minutes of sleep is because he is a dear friend and I know he would be here for me. I’ve done my inventory – I’m fine with my drinking.”
“Hmmmh” was all she said.
My friend finally arrived at that moment just before the meeting was about to start. I made brief introductions as we made our way across and down the hall to the meeting room. The meeting was only memorable because my friend got his thirty day pin towards the end of the meeting.
My friend and I parted on the street outside, him making a path to the gym (another way he was dealing with his alcoholism) and I a path to a cab.
“Don’t bother getting a cab” Tonya said from just behind my right shoulder. “I’m going to let you buy me a cup of coffee because I want to talk to you for a minute.”
“Will my ‘sobriety’ be among the topics, because if it is, the least you can do is buy the coffee.”
“Fine, I’m buying the coffee then… my car is this way.”
I started walking like any man who is told he is going to have coffee with a very attractive woman does.
“How long have you been sober?” I ask.
“At this point, about one year for every hour, you’ve been.”
“Not for nothing, I am glad that you invited me for coffee – mostly because I like a challenge and I think you’re cute – but I am not really interested in getting a lecture about my drinking. I examined this before I started coming to meetings with my friend, and especially carefully since. I am comfortable with my drinking.”
Tonya opened the passenger door to her car and gave me a look that said “I heard you, but we are going to talk about what I want to talk about.” I got in her car anyway.
We had been underway for a couple of blocks when Tonya asked “You do understand that it is just about impossible to believe that anyone comes to an AA meeting without a reason.”
“I have a reason, one I consider extremely valid, you just aren’t buying it or just wanted to get me alone for disreputable reasons. Not that I am opposed to the latter.”
Tonya and I shared coffee, stories, and many other things that day and over the next couple of years. Despite our flirtation and mutual attraction, things never became romantic. Her 9-5 life was as incompatible with my restaurant life as my drinking was with her alcoholism. We rarely discussed it.
New jobs for each of us accelerated our decline from regular to occasional to sporadic to “wow, I really should call her” friends.
She was one of my favorite crushes, and the last time I saw her she was drunk in a downtown cocktail bar. She was on a date and was dressed impeccably but her eyes were vacant. I said hello to her and her date but went back to my seat.
I’d really like to buy her a cup of coffee sometime but she won’t ask me and hasn’t let me ask her.