By Jodi Silberstein
It’s a room down the stairs and second door on the left. People set up chairs while the smell of coffee swirls around the room, masking the smell of wet mops and stale beer.
The whole family shows up. The daughter with the curls, the son in the sweatpants, the wife with the thin hair and tired eyes and his sister because she’s in town.
He was on the phone with his brother a few hours ago. His brother said he wishes he could be there but something about work and the commute and he’s sorry. He tells the brother it’s okay and that he appreciates the phone call. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
It’s death that always brings people together. It’s not always the funeral kind of death, though. It could be the death of a place brought on by a hurricane, tornado, or maybe just the death of what used to be. The death of one chapter. And maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. In a lot of cases, or more specifically, in the case of all these people in that room, the death of one chapter is why they are still alive. And so they come here every day because they know how easy it is for history to repeat itself and how so many people redo all the chapters they never let die.
There is a man here praying the person next to him can’t smell the alcohol crawling out of his pores. He’s praying to a higher power who just saw him four hours ago making bets with the devil. There are old men who quit the drinking but not the leather attire, girls who never made it out of high school, and moms forever grateful for the anonymity. But despite the different backstories, by the time the leader gets up to the podium, everyone is joined together, suffocating in the warm, coffee love.
It starts with a reading of the rules, the steps and the prayers. The leader talks about her day and whatever small epiphany she had after spilling green tea in the car on the way to see her father in the hospital. Some people nod their heads and give her understanding smirks. Others shift their weight on the metal fold-up chairs contemplating the difference between what can and cannot be changed. She introduces the speaker.
His wife squeezes his hand and kisses his cheek. His kids sway back and forth in their seats, feet dangling. The sister has tears in her eyes because she was there that night sitting up with their mom waiting for him to come home when the phone rang and it was the cops. They said, “Lucky to be alive.” And she said, “I’m so tired of this.”
And then it was detox and rehab, and he stands up. Everyone claps for him. His cheeks are red because crowds make him nervous. He places himself behind the podium and looks at his kids, his wife and the sorry, pale teenagers standing in the back visiting from rehab. The clapping echoes between his ears. He looks at the kid he sponsors. He touches his tie and thinks for a second about his job. He coughs a cough that reminds a person of rusting pipes and then he starts to talk.