All of the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting on his side of town seemed warm and welcoming. All of the people were friendly and knew him by name. There were hugs, handshakes, slaps on the back. The rooms were well lit with comfortable chairs. There were always freshly baked cookies or donuts.
A recent falling out with his sponsor, Ralph, had caused Danny to choose to avoid some of his normal meetings, though. He had already been down to two meetings a week, which Ralph had so poignantly called him to the carpet on, so he didn’t want to cut those out completely. He had been feeling antsy lately and probably needed to go to a few more. Never the type to ask for help, he was unwilling to admit it, though. Instead, he decided to try a few meetings on the other side of the tracks. Whitehall. The seedy part of town.
Fucking Ralph. “You’re only as sick as your secrets,” he said. Danny had made a list of all those he had harmed, and went about making amends to them all. Some accepted his apologies, some didn’t. All he could do was clean his own side of the street. There were fa few amends that were impossible to make, but he had admitted all of his sins to either his sponsor, his therapist, or his priest. All but The One Thing, that is. That’s what Ralph kept harping on. Danny had stayed sober for fifteen years. He deserved to keep The One Thing to himself, didn’t he? Fucking Ralph.
Danny chose a group with the innocuous name of “New Hope” that met in the basement of Saint Pete’s Episcopal Church. While groups sometimes did actually meet in church basements, they were rarely as depicted on television or in the movies. That’s just not the way things worked. Hollywood had gotten the coffee and donuts part down to a tee, but missed the mark on most of the rest. Sadly, there weren’t even any donuts at the “New Hope” group. Danny wished that he had known. He would have sprung for some. AA had given him his life back, and brought a good bit of financial security with it, so he didn’t mind giving back now and again.
He made his way over to the coffee urn, making eye contact with a few people on the way. He didn’t even bother to smile. The most he got were some grunts and shrugs as he walked by. He had already decided that he wouldn’t ever be coming back to this group, so why bother. He wasn’t about to walk out, though. Giving up was for losers. He grabbed a Styrofoam cup from the top of the stack, which already had some black smudged fingerprints on the outside, and filled it with a sludge that they called coffee here at Saint Pete’s.
Danny threw a buck into a basket on the table and plopped into a chair that seemed to be farthest away from everyone else. This was nothing like the usual meetings he hit. The church’s basement room was about forty by forty feet square. There were eight rectangular folding tables set up in a makeshift circle with wooden chairs set along the outside. Unfortunately, there would be no speaker. This was a discussion meeting. They would most likely read something out of some bit of AA approved literature – the Big Book, Twelve and Twelve, or some meditation book – and then go around the room weighing in on their own personal experience, strength, and hope. Danny didn’t feel like talking, but the one bit of his sponsor’s advice that he had latched onto early was to always say something. Always be “part of.”
Even though the ceiling held banks of fluorescent lights, the room still seemed cold. Perhaps it was the type of bulb they used. (Were there different types?) Or perhaps it was the way the light reflected off the sickly yellow linoleum floor and institution-green walls. It smelled funny, too. Oh well, thought Danny, it’s only for an hour. He had spent twice that amount of time scraping together change for another bottle while fighting off the shakes in the past. In comparison, this would surely be more pleasurable than that.
That’s what it came down to, wasn’t it? For him, to drink is to die. There were times that he had done the most disgraceful things in order to get drunk. Things that would have sickened him if he had been sober and not fiending for the next drink. So if sitting through a boring meeting in a crappy place meant not drinking, even for only an hour, then so be it. Not a difficult choice.
He was not a snob, but the thought that the people here seemed to be a little lower class than what he was used to. He was by no means rich, but now that he had gotten his life together, he was back in the upper-middle class demographic. The meetings that he attended were regularly frequented by businessmen, doctors, realtors, and other professionals. Frankly, even the blue-collar people at his normal meetings seemed to be upper class compared to these people. These people were… and he had to remind himself that he was being honest and not uncaring… the dregs of society. Unshaven, unkempt, tattooed, greasy, foul smelling.
AA had taught him not to judge. “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Still, it was hard.
Just before the meeting was called to order, a man plopped down into the chair next to him. Oh, come on, buddy, thought Danny. Ten empty chairs, plenty to keep enough distance between all of us, and you have to sit right next to me. He sighed. At least this guy seemed friendly.
Short, stout (PC for obese), with a red, round face, he introduced himself. “Hi there! Name’s Mike! How ‘bout you?”
“Danny,” he said as he extended his hand.
At least Mike was dressed well. Button down shirt, slacks, dress shoes. He was even wearing cologne. Or was it the smell of booze? No, Danny decided, it was cologne. The guy’s breath smelled bad though. Not “smelled” as in “drinking” smelled, but just reeked. His teeth seemed white enough, but it was as if he hadn’t brushed in ages.
Mike tried to make small talk. “I haven’t seen you before. So how long have you been coming to these meetings?”
“About sixteen years,” replied Danny. “I came in for a year, and then decided that I wasn’t ready to stop. I went back out for a while, and have been sober ever since. Fifteen years, one month, one week, and two days.”
“Wow!” Mike seemed truly amazed, “How many minutes?”
Danny just smiled.
“Me?” Mike continued, “Me? I’ve only been coming for about a month now. I’ll have thirty days on Wednesday.”
“Well, congratulations. For some people, those first thirty are the hardest. Real white knuckle time.”
Mike was definitely pink clouding it. That’s the term for AAs in early sobriety who think that life has suddenly become wonderful and carefree. After a good period of sobriety, it kicks in that drunk or not, life still has challenges. There’s just no more alcohol to make the bad feelings go away.
“I’ll be getting my chip.”
Mike was of course referring to the colored aluminum medallion that – although not universally used - has become almost synonymous with AA. Sobriety coins themselves do not help people stay sober as such. It's the meaning behind them that is important. When a person receives a coin for one month, three months, or a longer period of time, the coins give a sense of pride for staying sober as long as they have, and to motivate them to continue. If a person should feel the desire to drink again, they might finger the coin in their pocket to remind them of all the headway they have made up to that point. It makes them ask themselves if they truly want to throw away all that progress. Danny never liked the chips. He would occasionally step back and remember exactly how much sober time he had – remember that last drunk vividly – but he didn’t want a constant reminder. He felt it would make it easier to ask the question “Has it been long enough? Am I cured now?”
The conversation was surprisingly pleasant enough, but Danny was happy when the meeting began all the same. Same old, same old. Business first, then reading, then around the table sharing. When eight o’clock rolled around, the chairperson indicated that it was time to close, and they joined hands for the Lord’s Prayer. AA is not a religious organization, but saying the Lord’s Prayer at the end is sort of a tradition in most – but not all – groups. It’s a sign of unity, if nothing else. Danny really didn’t plan to stick around for fellowship afterwards, but he always stayed long enough to help clean up. However, before he got to the door, Mike cornered him.
“Hey Danny, am I going to see you around here again?”
“Eh,” Danny creased his brow, “Probably not. I live on the other side of town. I just stopped in here tonight because… well, it was just convenient.” Danny guessed that had not technically been a lie. AAs had to be careful. “Practice these principals in all of our affairs.” Lies paved a slippery slope.
“Oh,” Mike seemed dejected, “It’s just that they say to get phone numbers – you know, to call for when you feel like drinking – and I was wondering if I could get yours.”
Danny’s shoulders relaxed a little. “Of course, Mike. That’s never a problem. Never feel like you can’t use it.” Mike wouldn’t use it. Most of the newbies never did. Danny pulled out a pen and jotted it down in the back of Mike’s meeting pamphlet anyway. “There you go.”
“Thanks, Danny” Mike shook the pamphlet. “I will definitely use this. You’re a lifesaver. You guys are great.”
Mike bounced away. Danny made his way out into the parking lot and slid behind the wheel of his 2012 KIA. He said a little prayer for Mike. “Hope he makes it.” Who knew? Maybe being at that meeting was God’s way of putting him in the right place at the right time.
Danny rolled through the Burger King drive-thru on the way home to pick up an artery clogging dinner. He just wanted to flick on the television, eat, shower, and get into bed. It had been an exhausting day. He had barely pulled into his garage when his cell phone began to jingle. Danny finished parking, unbuckled his seatbelt, and answered the phone right there in the front seat. It was an old habit – probably not a healthy one – but he just had to pick up the phone when it rang. He could not bear the thought of someone leaving a message. He had heard stories of AAs who were never able to get through to someone, and things didn’t turn out well. Once their faith in the system was broken, especially the newcomers, they didn’t trust it anymore.
“Danno! It’s Mike!”
“Uh,” Danny shifted the phone to his right ear, “What’s up, Mike?”
“Oh, no no no. Don’t worry, Dan. I’m not thinking of drinking. Just wanted to test out the number. Practice call, you know? They say to get used to calling when you don’t need to, and that way it’ll be easier to call when you do need to. Right?”
“Um, yeah Mike. That is a good idea.”
“So what’s up?”
“Um, well, not a whole lot since I saw you. I just drove home. That’s about it,” Danny said with a smirk on his face. “I’m about to have some dinner and then it’s off to bed.”
“Oh, okay,” Mike replied. “You go have your dinner and have a great night! Maybe I’ll talk to you tomorrow?”
“Sure, Mike. Tomorrow.”
Danny showered, toweled off, and padded into his bedroom. He slid into a pair of silk boxers and fell into bed. He didn’t imagine that he’d have any problem sleeping – he was physically exhausted – but as usual, his mind raced a mile a minute. He was never able to fall asleep without the radio turned on, even when about ready to pass out. His head would hit the pillow and the stinkin’ thinkin’ would kick in. That’s how Danny discovered the wonders of talk radio.
Dialed in to a pundit recapping the day’s news in a soothing voice, Danny pulled the chain on his bedside lamp and plunged the room into darkness. The pillow was cool. His stomach was full. His mind had calmed. Sleep began to…
Danny phone jingled. He propped himself up on one elbow, used the remote to turn the radio off, and grabbed the phone from the nightstand. Its screen had lit up with the number of the incoming call, but he didn’t recognize it. It wasn’t a name that had been programmed into his phone. Danny briefly considered putting the phone back down and letting it go to voicemail, but he knew that he would not be able to sleep until he heard the message and, more than likely, called whomever it was back.
“Mmm,” Danny sighed, “Hello?”
“Danny.” Mike sounded grave this time. “Sorry to call so late. I mean, I know you said that you were going to hit the hay, and I didn’t want to bother you, but…”
“S’okay, Mike. Go ahead.”
“Remember how I said that I’d be getting my chip in a couple of days? Yeah. I can’t believe it’ll have been a month already. You know, the day I took my last drink was a special day.”
“Every day is special when it’s your last day drunk, Mike.”
“Yeah, yeah. But, I mean special. It was the anniversary of… Well…” Mike began to get flustered. “See, my wife and I, my ex-wife that is, and I lost our daughter that day.”
Danny swung his legs out from under the covers and sat up. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, don’t be, Danny. It happened a long time ago. Long time ago. It would have been her twenty-first birthday,” Mike trailed off. “So long ago. The denial, the depression, the sadness, the anger. I started drinking afterward and just never thought to stop. Until now, that is.”
“That’s a long time to be stewing in it, Mike. Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nah, Danny. No sense dredging up the past. Not when I’m doing so well.”
“You’re only as sick as your secrets, Mike.” God, Danny hated it when his sponsor was right.
“Yeah, yeah. Maybe when I’m feeling a little more stable, Danny. Maybe I’ll talk about it then. I’m just not doing so well right now.”
Danny spoke with Mike for about half an hour and, when he was convinced that Mike was over the urge to drink, let him off the phone and promised to meet him the following day. He lay down his phone and swung back under the covers, a smile on his face. What was it they say? Even if Mike went out and drank that night, at least Danny stayed sober. Help yourself by helping others. Danny forgot to turn the radio back on, and that night, he dreamt about The One Thing.
Danny awoke to the sound of his phone. It wasn’t the alarm tone, but the ringtone. Another phone call. He had come to recognize Mike’s number by now. This was getting a little annoying, but sometimes that’s the way it went. Mike would either fall off the wagon soon, or he would start to make new contacts. In the meantime, Danny would just have to deal with it.
“Good morning, Mike.”
“Dan, my man! Good to hear your voice.”
“Yeah,” said Danny, scratching at the back of his head, “It’s been like… six or seven hours now, huh?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m not bothering you, am I?”
“No, no.” Yes, yes, though Danny. “So how did last night go? Didn’t drink, did you?”
“Nope, and I owe it all to you Dan.”
“Well, Mike, you picked up the phone and made the call. So you can give yourself a little pat on the back. That phone can seem real heavy when it stands between you and a drink.”
“Ain’t that the truth? So, are you hitting a meeting this morning, Danny?”
“Um, no, Mike. I have a job,” Danny tried not to sound ticked off. “I have to work today. I promise that we’ll get to one tonight. You pick it out, and call me back around six. Okay?”
“Got it, Danno. Six! Talk to you then.”
Danny’s worst fear came true. Three more calls during the day. Mike had picked a group called “As Bill Sees It,” on Danny’s side of town. Danny decided that he would need to have a talk with Mike that evening. Calling when in need, or even for occasional friendly support, was fine, but there was such a thing as abusing the system. You know, the boy who cried wolf sort of thing. Danny was about ready to throw his always-answer-the-phone policy out the door.
Danny didn’t look forward to the conversation, and had a rough time forcing his dinner down that evening. He wasn’t hungry but, as usual, he tried to keep his stomach full. “HALT” Hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Four things an alcoholic never wanted to be. Any of those could be a setup for another drink. As he was finishing his second hot dog, wrapped in white bread with ketchup – just as he liked them – his phone rang again. He checked the screen. Fucking Mike. Again. He decided that he wouldn’t answer it, and let it go to voicemail.
Seconds later, it rang again. Didn’t that guy get the message? Danny let it go to voicemail again. Another few minutes passed, and it rang again. Danny wondered if Mike had changed his mind. Maybe he couldn’t make it to the meeting after all. Still, he let it go to voicemail. Thankfully, more minutes passed and Mike did not call back. Danny felt like a heel, but he just couldn’t deal with it anymore.
At around a quarter of seven, Danny tied his shoes and gathered his wallet and car keys. As he headed toward the door, his phone jingled. Mike. This time, he answered.
“Hey, Mike. I’m headed out the door right now.”
“Oh thank God, Dan!” exclaimed Mike. “I couldn’t get a hold of you, and then I started to worry… I wondered if maybe you went out drinking again, I… I…”
“Mike! Slow down, buddy.” Danny was beginning to let his temper get the best of him. “Would you...? Oh, look. Just wait for me at the meeting. Outside! We need to talk.”
Mike was breathing more regularly now. “Oh, Danny. You really had me going there. Well, anyway, you can ride with me.”
Danny strode out of the back door and pressed the button to lift the garage door. As the door rolled up, it gradually revealed a battered, green Honda sitting in the drive. Mike sat behind the wheel with the engine idling. Danny was taken aback. He walked briskly up to the driver’s side door and motioned for Mike to lower the window. After a moment, and with a confused look on his face, Mike hit the button and the window glided down.
“What’s wrong, Dan? Hop in. I thought that maybe we could ride to the meeting together. Then, maybe grab a cup of coffee after, huh?”
Danny was fed up. “No! No, Mike! No meeting, no coffee after. I don’t have time for this. I don’t know what to do with you. You cannot keep calling me. How the hell did you even find out where I live?”
“Oh, uh,” Mike looked shamefacedly, “I guess maybe I, uh, followed you home last night.”
“What the hell?!”
“Sorry, Dan. I’m new at this. I really don’t know how it works.”
How it works. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs. Danny thought it over and softened.
“Okay, Mike. Here’s how it works,” he said calmly. “I’ll come to the meeting, but I drive there myself. We talk a little. After the meeting, I come home. Alone. No coffee. No more calling, unless you really need to – like ‘I am going to drink’ need to. Are we clear?”
Mike looked a little hurt, but replied, “Okay. Clear, Danno.”
Danny got into his KIA and followed Mike to the meeting. They sat next to each other, but Mike was uncharacteristically quiet. Afterward, they separated in the parking lot with nary a word.
“See you tomorrow, Danny?”
“Oh, hey,” said Mike, “There’s a candlelight meeting called ‘Nite Owls’ tonight at the… Oh, right. Sorry.”
“Tomorrow, Mike.” Danny stressed.
Danny thought that Mike may have gotten the message, but just in case, he turned his phone off for the evening for what was probably the first time in years. That night, Danny had a nightmare about The One Thing.
Danny pulled himself from bed and showered in the morning, and had almost forgotten his phone. Still wrapped in a towel and with damp hair, he walked over to the nightstand and turned it on. He returned to the bathroom as it went through its boot up process, and then he heard a message tone from the next room. Hmm. Wonder who that could be.
Six missed calls from Mike. One two voicemails, four texts. “Thanks for coming, Dan,” “Sure you don’t want to go to the meeting?”, “Great meeting – shoulda been there!” and “Need 2 talk.” Danny didn’t want any confrontation today. He turned his phone back off, dressed and left home. He knew – just knew – that Mike would show up at his door after not receiving answers for long enough. He planned to not be there. Even though it was a Saturday, he would hang out at his office. There was a couch there. He could take a nap if need be. (And he did need it after the previous night.)
He felt silly and demoralized. It was his own house, damn it. He was being chased away from his own home by… well, a stalker. Should he talk to the police? No, he decided. He would talk to his sponsor first. Not daring to turn his cell back on for fear that it might ring in his hand; upon arriving at his office, he picked up his desk phone and dialed in Ralph’s number. Ralph was no help. At least, he didn’t tell Danny what he wanted to hear.
“Just suck it up, Danny. I’ve had my share of pigeons who either tried too hard or didn’t try hard enough. My guess is that this Mike guy will turn out to be one or the other. Why don’t you bring him along to tonight’s meeting? I’ll meet you guys at the ‘Acceptance Group’ tonight. Maybe I can have a talk with him.”
“Yeah, I suppose.”
Danny turned his cell back on in order to call Mike and invite him to the “Acceptance Group” that evening. Six missed calls, and it was barely noon. He sighed and began to scroll to Mike’s number when the phone jingled. Danny didn’t even need to look at the number to know who it was.
“Danny! I tried to…”
“Yeah, I know Mike. I’ve been at work. I just turned my phone on and saw that you had called.” An icy thought ran down Danny’s spine. Did Mike know where he worked, too? “Anyway, my sponsor suggested that I introduce you to him tonight. We’re going to Saint Andrew’s to a meeting called the ‘Acceptance Group.’ Want to come?”
“Are you kidding? Do you even need to ask? I would never pass on the chance to meet my sponsor’s sponsor. He’s like, what, my grand-sponsor?”
Whoa. Danny thought about it, and never had the talk of him being Mike’s sponsor come up. A sponsor is a recovering alcoholic who has successfully made some personal progress in the AA recovery program. He or she is asked by another AA member to take on the individual responsibility of sponsorship. A sponsor shares their experiences on an individual and personal basis with another alcoholic who is trying to achieve or maintain their own sobriety through the AA program. They help the person focus and navigate through the stages of the program. The relationship between an AA member and his sponsor is usually a pretty close and intimate one, and not gone into lightly. Not only does an alcoholic need to carefully choose a sponsor, but also the potential sponsor must cautiously decide whether taking on a sponsee is prudent.
Danny gave him the benefit of the doubt, though. Mike was new at this. “Hey now, Mike, I’m just another alcoholic willing to help you out. I’m not really in the right state of mind to sponsor anyone.” Not until he rid his conscience of The One Thing, anyway.
“Don’t feel bad, Mike. You’re new. You’ll catch on to how this works.” Then Danny had a thought, one that might rid him of Mike for good. “Ralph has really helped me out. Maybe he’d be a good choice for you to consider.”
“Eh, he won’t be the same as you, Dan.”
“You’d be surprised. We’re all the same in one way or another. Promise me that you’ll keep an open mind.”
“Okay. Anything for you, Danno.”
Danny hung up and texted directions to the meeting. Then he turned his phone back off. He decided on trying to catch a little nap, after all, and so curled up on the couch in the reception area of his office. He drifted off almost immediately, but it didn’t last long. He awoke screaming and in a cold sweat just forty-five minutes later. He felt his face and realized that he’d been crying, also. He had dreamed of The One Thing. Why had thoughts of it returned, and in such force? Fucking Ralph. He brought it up and started pressing Danny. That would make sense. Although, Danny had a feeling that Mike had something to do with it. Guilt over avoiding him? Constantly having to look over his shoulder and avoid phone calls? Or perhaps the fact that Mike had lost his daughter. Danny pushed The One Thing to the back of his mind once again, and decided to cross the street to McDonald’s to get in at least one meal before that evening’s meeting.
Danny had to cross a four-lane street in order to reach McDonald’s. It was the middle of the afternoon, clear weather, and – being a Saturday – there was only light traffic. He absentmindedly glanced both directions and crossed, not bothering to walk to the corner and wait for a signal. He was about halfway across when, seemingly out of nowhere, a car came racing at him. The driver was noticeably straddling the double striped centerline of the road, and overcorrected when he noticed Danny at the last moment. Danny could hear the tires screech as the driver got back into his own lane and sped off.
A drunk knew the signs when he saw another drunk driving under the influence. This guy was definitely drunk. Probably drinking in his car all morning and then falling asleep at the wheel after finally deciding to go home. Danny had done it himself on many occasions. Even though he could have stayed home and drank contentedly (and safely) in the comfort of his living room, he would choose to sit at the park on some mornings and drink in his car. He thought of how strange the ritual was, and how it was not unique to him. On any given morning, there would be a spattering of cars in each lot – all parked as far away from each other as the lot would allow. Each car with a single occupant, seemingly just sitting there. Every now and then, he could glance over and catch the sight of a bottle being raised to the driver’s lips.
Fred, another guy from one of the meetings, would occasionally go down to a local park and “work it.” He’d walk around the lots and catch drunks, pretending that he had just been walking by and was looking to make conversation. Sometimes, his presence was enough to make the drunk drive away. Sometimes, they’d stay and talk. Sometimes, they would even offer him a drink. Only twice, as far as Danny was aware of, did Fred actually get a drunk to open up about his problem and agree to take Fred’s advice. It might not have seemed like a lot, but that may have been two lives saved. Plus countless others, if you figured in the innocent lives that a drunk might take along with himself on the highway to Hell.
Danny began to hyperventilate. He ran the rest of the way across the street and sat on the curb, his gorge rising. He tried to calm himself, but could not. Eventually, he vomited into the gutter. It wasn’t the first time, but in the past, he’d always been drunk or hung over. He realized how pitiful he must have looked. He had never seemed to care in the past.
Eating was out of the question. Danny went back to the parking lot of his office, crossing the street with extra care this time, and got into his car. He drove straight to the church. He would be almost an hour and a half early, but that was okay. Someone was always there early to open up the rooms and make coffee. It was nice to show up and shoot the shit sometimes.
Not surprisingly, Mike was already there when Danny arrived. He was sitting out in the parking lot, but remained in his car. It looked like he was dozing. Danny walked over and rapped on the driver’s side window a few times. Mike startled, and he rolled the window down.
“Danny! You’re early. That’s great.”
“Yep. Couldn’t wait to get here, Mike,” he said sarcastically. “Tell you what. Let’s go around back and grab a bench.”
Danny led Mike behind the church. There was a small outdoor chapel of sorts – just a few benches facing a large, wooden cross, and overlooking a small stream. Danny motioned for Mike to take a seat, and then sat down next to him.
“Mike, let’s talk.” Danny seemed surprisingly calm. “I know that you’re pretty new to the program, and this may be skipping ahead quite a bit, but… let me explain how the fourth and fifth steps of AA go. They are, to me at least, probably the most important steps of all twelve. They are where you begin healing.”
“Sounds great, Dan.”
“Not really. I did a really shitty job on my fifth step. Remember how I told you that you’re only as sick as your secrets?”
Mike nodded, “Yeah, Danny.”
“The fourth and fifth steps ask you to make a searching and fearless moral inventory, and then admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”
“I can see where that would help. I have so much guilt and remorse, Danny. Sometimes, I think it’s what makes me drink.”
Danny shook his head. “No, Mike, you drink because you’re an alcoholic. But it’s a whole lot easier to get sober when you get your head on straight. When you get rid of all of the shit that’s deep down inside. The stuff that regrets are made of.”
“So are we going to do that now?”
“Not we. Me.”
“I thought that you already did your steps.”
Danny nodded. “I did, Mike. I did. But the fourth and fifth steps are carried on throughout the rest. We have to continue to take a moral inventory, and do those steps over and over, because we are human. Just because we get sober doesn’t make us saints. We still make mistakes.”
Mike nodded slowly and remained quiet. It was as if he knew that Danny was about to say something important and it was time to keep his mouth shut.
“You see, Mike, there was something that I never admitted in my fifth step. Something that I couldn’t admit. The One Thing that I wasn’t ready to give up. I don’t know why, but it’s catching up to me now. I’m afraid that if I don’t let it go, I’m either going to drink or kill myself. Or both.”
“What is it, Danno?”
“This is probably a mistake. Telling a newcomer. Especially about The One Thing. In fact, this would be better left with a priest, but at this point it doesn’t matter because I’m going to have to own up to it. The One Thing is something that everyone will find out about sooner or later. Probably sooner, now.”
“You can tell me, Danny, your secret is safe with me.”
Suddenly, it was as if Mike had become the old-timer. His demeanor changed. He surely didn’t seem like a newbie anymore. The whole way he was acting… He had gone from being an annoying, overexcited, asshole to a quiet, comforting soul – at least in Danny’s heart. Danny took a deep breath.
“I’ve been sober for fifteen years, one month, one week, and four days. I told you that I came into the rooms about sixteen years ago, though. Well, something happened about six months into that. I’d been dry, sure, but still an alcoholic. Still exhibiting all of the same behavior. That’s what the program is for, by the way. Not to make us stop drinking, but to make us saner, healthier people. Well, Mike, I…” Danny’s breath hitched in his throat. He was already regretting bringing this up, but he felt like it was too late now.
“Go on, Danno. I’m listening.”
“It was late summer. Around seven o’clock, dusk. I was driving up Parkside Avenue, you know the place?”
“Yeah. As a matter of fact, I used to live in a cul-de-sac off Parkside.”
“Then you know the hill, about midways. Anyway, I was coming up over the crest of the hill, tooling along… pink clouding it, stone cold sober, mind you. A girl. A little girl, damn it. She came out from between two parked cars and just… just ran right out in front of me.”
“Oh, God Danny. No.”
“Yes. I couldn’t stop. I fucking ran her down, Mike. A little girl!”
“That’s horrible,” Mike grimaced, “But it was an accident Danny. You said so yourself. You were sober. She ran out from between the cars. You couldn’t have known.”
“No, but it was what I did next that was unforgiveable.”
“What, Dan?” Mike rocked back, laced his fingers together, and knitted his brow. He had a clearheaded look about him. One that Danny had never seen on Mike’s face before. “What was unforgiveable?”
Danny took a deep breath. “I didn’t stop. I just kept on driving. I panicked. It was like I had been drinking. I didn’t want to get caught. Afterward, I realized that it was an accident, but at the time… At the time, I just panicked. I acted just like a drunk would have. I left her there, Mike. Maybe she was still alive, but I left her there. What if she was just hurt and could have been saved if I had just stopped?!”
“She wasn’t hurt. She was dead the instant you hit her, Dan.”
“You couldn’t know that. I didn’t know that, and I was there.”
“I do know it, Danny. That’s what the EMT said. ‘Dead on impact.’”
Danny jerked his head up. It was as if his stomach had dropped out from under him. Like the first hill on a roller coaster. “What did you say?”
“When I got there, that’s what the EMT told me. Dead on impact. She didn’t suffer. She probably had no idea what had happened.”
“What the hell are you talking about Mike?”
“She was my daughter, Danny.”
Danny was speechless. He sat still for a moment, and then started shaking his head violently. “No! Fuck you, Mike. Her father is dead. I followed the story in the papers. He killed himself two months after the accident. Got drunk and drove into a bridge abutment. Why the hell would you even say something like that?”
Mike had tears welling up in the corners of his eyes. “Because now I know, Danny. Now I know that you are repentant.”
“Fuck you, Mike. How can you pull this shit on me? How can you even say something like that? Do you think that this is a joke? Well, fuck you.”
Danny stormed away, sobbing, and walked toward the church. Ralph had arrived and was walking in himself. He noticed how upset Danny was and stopped him, grabbing his shoulders and turning him around somewhat forcefully.
“Danny! What’s wrong? What’s going on?”
“That asshole. I told him, Ralph. I told him The One Thing, and do you know what he said?”
“Slow down, Danny,” said Ralph. “If you’re ready, why don’t you tell me what The One Thing is first.”
His secret no longer a secret, he told Ralph exactly what he had told Mike. “And he said that he’s her father! That dick!”
“Who, Danny? Who?”
“Mike. That idiot who’s been harassing me.”
“Where is he, Danny? Is he here? I’ll talk to him.”
Danny turned and pointed at the bench. “He’s right… He was sitting with me right there.”
Ralph cocked his head. “Danny, are you okay?”
“No, I’m upset, and with good reason. I just told him The One Thing, and he goes and says that?”
Ralph’s brow wrinkled with concern. “Danny, I’ve been here for twenty minutes waiting for you to go inside. I saw you sitting there on the bench talking to yourself, and thought that you were praying or needed some time to yourself. You were alone the whole time, Danny.”
Danny scanned the parking lot. No battered, green Honda. He started to breath heavily, and pulled out his phone. He scrolled through his call log – all of the calls he had made and received. All of the texts. Nothing. The only call in the last three days was the one he had made to Ralph that same morning. There was one text message waiting in his inbox. It had no number associated with it.
“I forgive you Danny.”
Credited to Kenneth Kohl