Off the Wagon

David’s heart pounded as anxiety built within him. A nauseous wave of uneasiness developed in the pit of his stomach like the feeling when gravity defies its boundaries. He gulped down the cheap Folgers from his tightly gripped Dixie cup as his mouth ceased to produce any saliva. David was ready to make his debut. The man had finished his sob story; a well spoken proclamation of defeat about substance abuse. David prepares to take the podium and share his story. A burst of clapping roars across the room as the man finishes and steps down from the platform.

God I hate this, David contemplates, I can’t believe I’m actually volunteering to do this. Do I really need to be here? I’ve been here for twenty minutes and already scanning the exits out of this dump. Is there any possible way I could leave without making the situation any less awkward. What if I get up and someone notices. I feel eyes on me right now. Look at these fucking people; a giant melting pot of blue-collar trash counting the minutes till they get back to their shanties to pick apart the latest TV guide crossword puzzle. Was life really that much worse when you were drinking? Seriously, how is this bullshit supposed to help me? I need to calm downâÂ?¦I feel the sweat beading off my neck. O.K., so it’s too late to leave nowâÂ?¦.too much explanation. Suck it up Dave! Well this will be interesting.

David stood behind the podium and scanned the room, desperately trying to find someone to place his focus on. He took a final look at his audience. Their general appearance just screamed poor and helpless: their clothes were as weathered and outdated as the dull, faded building. The brown, stained ceiling, with its flickering fluorescents cast shadows of despair in this dreary hole.

Unable to focus his eyes on the audience, David struggled to maintain his composure as he gripped his sweaty hands against the cold, steel podium. A sudden tingle shot through his fingers and down his spine as he slowly opened his mouth. The number of people seemed to grow before his eyes as he gasped for another breath. The room fell silent, everyone anxiously waited for David to speak.

“Hi, my name is David, and I’m an alcoholic,” David spoke surprisingly coherently.

“Everyone, let’s give David a warm welcome,” said John, the group speaker.

John, a recovering alcoholic, had been completely sober for six years. He had made a living for himself as an attorney for a small law firm in downtown Houston until his career ended abruptly after losing his job to drinking. He had on a freshly pressed, yellow polo tucked into a pair of crisp, black slacks accompanied by shiny, black, wingtip shoes. It had seemed as if he had come straight from work. John had a quality about him which demanded immediate attention and respect. He was polished, refined, and spoke eloquently.

“Hi David,” the whole crowd cheerfully greeted him.

“Well, what an encouraging and respectful class,” David sarcastically comments to himself with a smirking grin. “Thank you. Well, I guess I should explain why I am here. Uhh..well, about six months ago my brother was killed in an automobile accident on his way home from work. He was a designer for an ad agency downtown and was working late in the office. Mark had just been promoted, so he was trying to put in extra hours to prove he could handle the job. You see, Mark was extremely driven and even more talented.” David’s anxiety level slowly withered away as he found himself talking with a natural ease.

“Anyway, he was late leaving the office, struggling to make it home for his wife’s birthday party. Supposedly, as he was driving on the highway, a car sped up from behind him, swerved into his lane, and clipped the front left side of the car. The impact spun his little compact around and it smashed into a retaining wall. Mark was killed instantly. The driver of the other car never even stopped.”

David paused and stammered when remembering the horrifying cause of events of that fatal night. He had never felt pain until then. He had received that phone call when he was out at Mickey’s, a local pub, near his apartment. His mother had told him that his brother had died. Mark and David had remained very close after Mark had left for college. He had not only lost his big brother; his best friend had been erased from his life. Tears started to form a glazed layer over David’s eyes as the story takes its toll. David stood helpless, his secret vulnerabilities fully exposed to the audience.

“So, a couple of hours after the wreck, police found a car that matched the description witnesses had given. The driver turned out to be a careless fifteen year old kid who had stolen his parents car to go on a little joy ride with a buddy. The kid told police that he didn’t think that that the wreck had been that bad, and he didn’t want to get caught, so he kept driving. Yeah, that little bastard is serving his time but I’m not quite sure that’s enough. You know the justice system is a weird thing. You never really give it that much thought until it actually affects you on a personal level.

David’s anger began to rise as he continued his story. He knew he should change his tone before the story lost its direction.
“My life took a downward shift after that. I immediately dropped out of school and moved back home with my parents. My mom was very sympathetic; she welcomed me back without question. My dad, on the other hand, was not so understanding. He couldn’t believe I dropped out of school with one semester left. He just couldn’t understand, but I guess nobody could.” The audience was enthralled with David’s presentation. He had captured their attention and was feeding off their engaged expressions.

“I started hanging out with friends from back home and partied pretty hard. I’ve never really been much into drugs so alcohol was my drug of choice. I already had a fairly high tolerance, thanks to my college days, so it was nothing to down a six pack before dinner.”

As David dwelled into the cause of events which led him to the meeting, he recalled the very instance when that triggered his downward spiral of defeat. He was at the bar, by himself, just watching as people passed through and out of the bar. David focused on one particular group, about six or eight kids; all who appeared friends. He watched as they laughed and hugged each other; a pure image of true happiness. He listened to their stories and watched as the joke’s punch line sent the cheerful bunch into a laughing hysteria. David even displayed a slight smile as if their joy had been an contagious aura about the area. Images of he and Mark plagued his mind; images that once resembled a life of happiness and true bliss. David observed the group and could only reflect on how he used to be that happy; how he and Mark shared that same enjoyment and laughter. David cringed as the sorrow became to much to bear, then threw back a shot of bourbon, and then another until the pain subsided.

David studied the audience. They nodded their head as if they could relate to exactly what he was talking about. They had been in his shoes before and could empathize with his situation. He had been so set on establishing himself as different from the rest of these strangers that he forgot that everybody’s motivation for being at this meeting were mutual. They too are human beings who shared the same insecurities and defects as he. The audience was intrigued and compassionate towards his predicament which only fueled his confidence in presenting his story.

“So about two and a half months passed, and I was still out of a job. My mom set me up with a job working at her antique shop in the town square. That lasted for a couple of weeks, until the day I strolled into work so wasted, I managed to crush one of the window displays by stumbling over it. I just thought it was funny, but my mom stood there embarrassed and apologizing to customers. Needless to say, I was not invited back to work again.”

David began to think of what a shamble his life had become after Mark had died. There was no stability in his life. He needed people like this that cared and had been through the same hard times or even worse. Appearances had no longer become an issue as David had become dependent on their sympathetic hearts.

“I don’t think I finally woke up until about two weeks ago. I was bored from constantly being around the house, so one night while I was watching TV, I decided to get out for some fresh air. My parents had just gone to sleep, so the guards were no longer on duty. My friends were drinking at the bar and called to see if I could make it out. I said ‘Fuck it, I need a drink.’ I grabbed my keys and took off to the bar. I hadn’t had a drink in over a week, and the craving was no longer bearable. Closing time rolled around, and I was completely hammered as usual. Since drunk driving had not been a problem in the past, I figured I would be alright getting home. Well, my parents live in the country, so there are these back dirt roads that wind and twist. I used to drive an old CJ Jeep, which was really top heavy, so when I was going into a turn, I overcompensated and my jeep took a couple of rolls off the side of the road.”

The story was in the process of coming to an end. David would now deliver the conclusion to his sob story. The answer to the million dollar question about David’s reason for being at the meeting was about to answer. He took one last deep breath and proceeded.

“Someone must like me up there because I swore I should have been dead. I was not hurt with the exception of a couple of scrapes and bruises but no serious injuries.

David reminisced of that night that he had to call his parents at three in the morning to explain to them that he had just rolled his jeep in a ditch. Despite their willingness to get angry about his drunk driving, they were deeply worried about his condition and quickly came to his rescue. Some of the people in the room had lost everything including family and friends. David still had loving parents that who cared for him and would see him through these trying times. The night had put his life into retrospect.

“The next day I was given an ultimatum: either I seek help for my problem or I find some place else to live. They told me they knew how hard dealing with Mark’s loss was for me, as well as for them too, but they were not going to lose another son.” David takes a big sigh and concludes his story, “That’s what brings me here today. I guess I’m here to fix my drinking problem and get my life back on the right track. Hopefully, this program can help me.” David pauses and then looks at his audience yearning for their approval or acceptance. Immediately, clapping echoes through the room, producing the supportive sound of encouragement that David so desperately desired.

“Great job,” says John, “You sound like an incredible young man with a lot of potential. We hope our program will be able to put you on that right track.” David stepped down from the podium and marched back to his seat. “Okay everyone, I think we should end on that note, and we will return this Wednesday to dip more into David’s problem. See everybody next Wednesday.”

After the meeting, a herd of people motioned towards David in spite of his profoundly inspiring story. He was appreciative to have this kind of support, to make this kind of impression on complete strangers. As he met other members, he noticed a girl duck out of the room. His eyes focused on her strong, attractive build as it disappeared through the exit. He was surprised to see this girl at the meeting, someone who looks so innocent and pure. He briefly thought to himself, “Why hadn’t I noticed her in the crowd earlier? She must have been sitting behind someone, because I swore would have noticed a girl like that.”

As if hypnotized by this girl, he quickly tuned back into his greeters, thanked them, told them he was happy to meet them, and that he will see them again Wednesday. David moved quickly to the exit to follow the young woman. He walked out the door scanning both directions to spot her. There she was sitting against the building striking matches in failed attempt to light a cigarette. David slyly digged into his jean pocket to find a crinkled pack of Camel Lights. He needed a conversation piece; they would have to do. David noticed she was having a bit of trouble lighting her cigarette and started to move toward her lugging a cigarette in his mouth. In a casual tone David, asked the girl, “Hey, do you need a light?”

She then replied, “Yeah thank you.” David lit both of their cigarettes.

“Hi, I’m David. What’s you’re name?”

“I’m so sorry. How rude am I? I’m Teresa. It’s nice to meet you David.”

David glances at her with a deeper eye as if he was looking for a halo on her head. He had noticed that she was attractive, but not this attractive. She was practically glowing. David could see no flaws; an immaculate complexion. She was about 5’5, short blonde hair separated into pigtails, and perfect skin. Just dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt she had an welcoming appeal to her. He had not been expecting to see such a girl at the meeting. After all, he was under the impression that the meetings only attracted beggars and burn outs. She appeared young and wholesome, which totally caught him off guard.
“I didn’t see you in the room when I first came in,” David remarks to her. “Yeah I was seated in the back today,” Teresa replies,” “Everybody usually sits in a circle but we had a couple of rookies today, as you already know.”

“I know. I was pretty nervous before I got up there, but once I started talking, I felt better. Everybody seems really nice.”

“Yeah, they’re great. You’re in good hands.” Did you get a chance to meet John? “Yeah I did.”

“If you ever need anything, you can talk to John, and he’ll go out of his way to help you.

“Well, I just met him tonight but he seems like a really nice guy. So hey, what’s your story?” Right after David asks Teresa the infamous question, he noticed her looking off behind him and putting out her cigarette on the ground.

“David, I’m sorry but my ride is here so I have to go,” Teresa apologetically says, “That’s my roommate.”

A feeling of disappointment peeked inside him. He had just started to get to know her. If only her ride was a couple of minutes late she could have answered his question. Anticipation would build, as he would have to wait till the next meeting.

“Oh, ok,” David replies. Teresa reaches into her purse and pulled out a pen and piece of paper. She wrote her name and phone number on it and gave it to David.

“This is my cell number. If you need anyone to talk to just give me a call unless you would rather speak with John,” she smiled revealing a sense of humor. “I’ll see you again on Wednesday. It was nice to meet you David,” Teresa said with a reassuring smile. She opened the door of the car and eased her way inside.

“Yeah, you too. Bye.” Sad to end the conversation David waved as the car sped out of the parking lot. David grinned with a hint of satisfaction on his face. It had been a while since he had anything to look forward to unless he counted his last drink. His drinking buddies had provided him with no advice or insight. They were empty vessels with nothing to offer him. Their relationship was solely based on booze and entertainment. They had no clue on how to be open or express feeling. Beside his family, there had been nobody to talk to. His judgments had been wrong. These were good people. He was high on something other than alcohol. He exhibited a tiny smirk reminding himself that things might be alright. David removed his keys from his pocket and strolled off towards the parking lot cradling in his hand the piece of paper with Teresa’s number on it.

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