By Bill A.
I came to it one Sunday morning
twenty-four years ago, just like every other morning: hung-over. Sunlight
streamed through the window, nudging me awake. “Ugh,” I grunted. Too sick
to move, my head ached like a thumb hit by a hammer. As I tried to piece
together the night before, and the day or two before that, the thought
haunted me that the blackouts, which for the last few months had
progressed from occasional to inevitable, were a symptom of – not
alcoholism, no, never that – insanity. “That’s it,” I said to myself out
loud, “I’m nuts.” How else could it be explained? I never considered
alcoholism. After all, I wasn’t a skid row bum. The power of that
realization — that I was out of control, utterly unable to change my
situation — overwhelmed me.
with sweat, I glanced from my bed through the window at the annoyingly
beautiful spring day and mumbled to nothing in particular, “If there is a
God, please help me.” I had absolutely no expectation that anything would
come of that request. I just didn’t know what else to do. Without
exaggeration, less than a minute later there was a loud knock on my door.
I did what I usually do when confronted by something unpleasant: I ignored
it. Too sick to move, I assumed silence would send whomever it was a
message: Bill’s not here. A louder, more insistent knock soon followed. I
winced. in my condition I could hear my eyelids move. Moments later
another, even louder, knock. A voice said, “I know you’re in there.” Then
the voice started pounding on the door. I struggled to my feet and
shuffled toward the voice. By the time I reached the door I knew it
belonged to my landlady, Norma. As I inched open the door I could see that
she was angry. “I been watching you, boy,” Norma said in a thick West
Texas drawl. She stepped closer and lightly poked her finger in my chest.
“I know what you’re up to, boy. You’re an alky-holic” she said with a
deepening frown. “I know, I been watching you.” She narrowed her gaze as
if watching a bug crawl across my face. “My son’s an alky-holic; so are
coming and going, my stumbling and slurred speech, were routine. Once
reserved for weekends and after-work carousing, since I’d lost my last job
as a till-dipping bartender, my drinking had been constant. “My boy don’t
drink no more,” Norma said. “He goes to Alky-holics Anonymous.” I glanced
down the hall to see if any neighbors had heard. “He goes to Alky-holics
Anonymous, and he don’t drink,” Norma repeated as if I hadn’t heard her.
Then she looked at me as if I had told her water was wet and said, “You
need to go to Alky-holics Anonymous, boy.” I began to protest with a
contrived excuse about family illness. Surely she’s deluded, I thought. No
way am I going to some Salvation Army soup kitchen. “You’d better go to
one of them meetings, today,“ she said. “Or I’m evicting you first thing
come morning.” She paused. “And I want proof you went. Bring me one of
them Big Books.” I wondered how big this book might be, and whether I’d
need anyone to help me carry it.
Norma had her say, she focused one of her most piecing, laser-like stares
at me turned and walked away. I stood in my doorway relieved she had left,
and shuddered. “Yeah, right.” I closed the door as Norma walked down the
hall. By this time of day Dallas convenience stores were selling beer and
wine — no hard liquor on Sunday. I knew if I had one beer there’d be an
eviction for sure, because my next move would be more beer. As usual, I
put on my cleanest clothes, checked the phone book for the nearest AA
address, and promised myself I’d poke my head in the door so I could tell
Norma what I saw and see about one of those Big Books she mentioned. I
don’t remember much about my first AA meeting. But I clearly recall being
handed a Big Book by a guy named Cecil, someone I couldn’t imagine would
have anything in common with me. Me: a slick transplant from New York
City; Cecil: a TV repairman from a rural Texas burg. But I couldn’t help
staring at him as he spoke. It was as if he’d been reading my mail. He
described what happened to him, how he felt, and it was me. Cecil told my
story – and except for minor changes of scenery and actors -- his story
was mine, and mine was Cecil’s. I’d like to tell you I’ve been sober since
my first AA meeting years ago. But the fact is that I wasn’t “ready to be
ready.” Yet Cecil made such an impression that I kept coming back until I
eventually got it, and began to enjoy the sober life that millions of
desperate alcoholics have come to know. I’ve heard it said that God works
through people. And that there are no coincidences, only “God-incidences.”
I believe that. In fact, I suspect God just might have a bit of a west
Texas drawl. ###
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