April 30, 1985
hurried down the passageway to catch up to his friend.
Al had quickly excused himself as soon as the report session had
come to an end. Between the
two of them, they’d gotten the Committee’s approval to move forward
with Sam’s ideas. Now Sam
would have to meet with the department heads, a field of battle he was
more comfortable stepping onto.
slowed his pace, but didn’t stop.
need to get back to the office,” he said, without a hint of brusqueness.
know,” Sam answered. “I
just wanted to thank you. I
couldn’t have done it without you.”
smiled and shrugged. “You
scratch my back, I scratch yours.”
grinned back. “Can I ask
you a question, Al?”
just looked at him as if to say, ‘What
do you think?’
you think we can meet on a regular basis to work through these
finally stopped walking. “You’ve
gotten the approval, what do you need me for now?”
actually, I wasn’t just talking about the theories for the
communications system,” Sam explained.
Your time travel theory,” Al interpreted.
quick glance around the empty hallway, and Sam nodded.
“You really helped me flesh everything out.
And the way you explained everything to the Committee in there, you
made it all so simple, but you didn’t talk down to them.
How did you do that?”
just shrugged. “Lots of
practice?” He started
moving towards the administration wing again.
reached out to touch his sleeve. “Al,
I want your help on this.” When
Al turned to him, Sam smirked and said, “Now don’t tell me you’ll
think about it. Will you help
Sam didn’t get it at first.
Al patiently repeated. “My
Thursday evenings are usually free.”
was waiting for him in the reception area when Al returned to the office.
He shook off the sensation of deja vu and cordially greeted the man
he would never trust again.
told me where you went,” Bob said, glossing over a returned greeting.
“You’re certainly off to a conscientious start.”
have a lot of ground to regain,” Al said in response. “Speaking of which, there’s a huge pile on my desk that
I’d like to get back to, if you don’t mind, Bob.”
can I buy you lunch?” Bob blurted out as Al headed past.
stopped and turned on his heel. “Why
would you want to do that?” he carefully asked, one eye narrowing
owe you an explanation.”
don’t owe me anything,” Al said the words sadly rather than harshly.
think I do,” Bob answered. He
glanced at Rachelle’s empty desk. “She’ll
be back from filing soon, and I don’t want her to overhear anything.
I’m almost positive she’s the source behind all the rumors
about you, and I’m sorry about that, Al.”
well, she does her job efficiently enough, so there’s nothing you can do
about that,” Al said, brushing off the apology.
tried again. “Let me take
you to lunch, Al. There was
nothing personal about yesterday.”
barked out a bitter laugh. “Like
hell there wasn’t.” He
shook his head. “Bob, I
have to finish going through those files.”
practically lunchtime now, Al. The
files will keep. I don’t
want things to be strained between us.
We do have to work together. Al,
we’re on the same side.”
shook his head again. “No,
Bob. We’re not.
You made it very clear whose side you were on yesterday.”
Al, give me a chance to explain.” Bob
extended a hand to him, palm up.
folded his arms over his chest. “You
explained plenty to the Committee.”
I’m sorry.” Bob dropped
his hand to his side. “Just
one lunch. That’s all I’m
asking. Let me explain things
to you, and if you’re still not satisfied after that, then I’ll let
do I know you won’t go running to the Committee with what we talk
flinched. “I deserved
arms still folded protectively over his chest, Al just cocked an eyebrow
at the man before him.
swear to you, Al, this lunch will be one hundred percent off the record.
did. Look what it got me.’
Al sighed, realizing that wasn’t entirely fair.
He couldn’t blame Bob for everything. His own actions were a sizable portion of what had led to the
lunch,” he reluctantly said. “I’ll
listen to what you have to say. That’s
all I’m promising.”
enough,” Bob said. He
gestured Al to follow him from the offices.
“We’ll go into town, where the walls don’t have ears.
why he was doing this, Al accompanied Bob from the administrative wing to
the parking lot.
mariachi music added to the ambience even more than the serapes and
sombreros hung on the walls. The
ceiling was cluttered by a bright palette of piñatas, designed to both
provide decoration and to tease and tempt the youngest patrons into
pleading with their parents to take one home.
“Please, Mommy, Daddy,” could be heard from the children at the
tables closest to the one Sam, Shari, and Donna sat at in the center of
filled three of the four chairs, the fourth one glaringly empty to Sam’s
eyes. In the center of the
table, a basket of fresh tortilla chips rested next to a small stoneware
bowl filled with salsa, and they munched on the nachos as they waited for
their order to arrive. The
waiter had already brought their drinks: three bottles of Corona to
celebrate in the proper atmosphere, as Shari had said.
raised her beer bottle. “To
Sam Beckett, who has not only gotten the holography labs back on track,
but who is going to move us into the future!”
hear! To Sam!” Donna
flushed, but clinked the neck of his beer bottle against those of his
companions. They each took a
glanced at the empty chair. “It’s
a shame Al didn’t come,” she commented.
didn’t realize you’d invited him,” said Donna.
“Why didn’t he?”
put his beer bottle down, feeling guilty as he did so.
If he had succeeded in
convincing his friend to join them, what would he have been tempting him
with? Then again, Shari would
surely have been sensitive enough not to have ordered the Coronas if Al
were there. He thought back
to Al’s declining of his invitation—the second time in as many days.
Sam. I’m still trying to
get used to being back--really back.”
know, but why won’t you come with us?”
Sam wheedled. “You
deserve a chance to celebrate as much as I do.
More than I do, in fact.”
shook his head. “I’m not
good company right now. I
just want to be left alone for a while.”
by Al’s withdrawal, Sam reluctantly agreed to let him be, and left to
tell Shari it would just be three for dinner.
just wasn’t up to coming into town,” Sam said.
it’s been a whirlwind couple of days for him,” Donna mused.
“I heard you were at the Committee meeting yesterday.
And that he was in uniform, no less.”
flicked his eyes to Shari, but the look on her face assured him she
hadn’t said anything.
did you hear that?” he asked.
don’t remember exactly, but it was floating around the complex,” she
what’ll soon be floating around is what a great job Al and Sam did on
getting that proposal together!” enthused Shari.
She raised her beer bottle again.
“To Al, who knew just the right words to use to convince the
Al!” Sam and Donna chorused, and the trio clinked bottle necks again.
still amazed,” Shari gushed, after they’d each had the obligatory sip.
“How did you two came up with such a great idea?
I mean, it made so much sense once you explained it to me, but I
don’t think I could have come up with something like that.”
took another sip of his beer. “Well,
the base concept is something I’ve been working on since grad school.
Al really helped me see how it could be applied to Starbright.”
imagine you didn’t need all that much help,” Donna said, lightly
touching his arm. “I’ve
heard nothing but good things about you since you got here.
A lot of it from Shari.”
you know I’m your biggest fan, Beckett,” she teased as he gave her a
seen the specs on the holography labs.
You really sped things up down there,” Donna continued.
was just a fresh perspective,” Sam said, trying to deflect the praise
it was more than that,” Donna said.
“What was it they said about you at the Nobel Prize ceremony?
The next Einstein?”
was Time Magazine,” Shari
said. She laughed merrily as
Sam blushed a deep shade of crimson.
“Poor Sam, are you getting uncomfortable?” she heckled.
a bit,” Sam shot back, having to grin.
exchanged a surreptitious glance with Donna, and then turned to examine
the bar at the far end of the room. “Say,
is that Brad Temple over there? It
sure is! If you two will
excuse me . . . .” She got
up and walked over to the bar.
she was gone, Donna spoke. “Sam,
I wish I wasn’t leaving the project now.
I wasn’t kidding. I’ve
heard a lot of good things about
you, and I wish I could see all your theories put into practice.”
unfortunately, no matter how big a team we have, there’s no way it’ll
get done in two weeks,” Sam commented.
He grabbed a chip and swabbed it full of salsa.
“So tell me more about this corporation you’re going to be
it’s not one of the largest companies around, but they are doing some
fascinating things. And I
think they’ll challenge me more than Starbright is.
There’s only so long you can sit and plow through equations to
derive the proper telescope angles, you know?”
you put in for a transfer to another section?
I mean, if you were getting bored where you were.”
times. Got turned down every
They did the complete opposite with me.
I hit almost every lab there was.”
didn’t hit mine,” Donna said. She
lightly touched his arm again. “I
would have liked to have gotten to know you sooner.”
a flash, Sam realized why Shari had been so interested in “Brad
Temple.” In that same
flash, a thousand subtle hints Donna had made Sunday night made complete
sense. And at the same time, Sam knew that he felt the same way.
They’d discussed business Sunday night, and they’d discussed
personal things, but with Shari there, Sam hadn’t picked up on Donna’s
interest. He was so used to
Shari’s teasing, and her ebullient personality was so vivacious, so
strong, that Donna’s more sedate attitude failed to catch his notice.
was it then that he saw it all so clearly now?
He wasn’t sure, but it didn’t really matter. Whatever the reason, he now knew that he wanted to learn more
about Donna Elysee.
yet, he wasn’t sure why he was pursuing this, knowing full well Donna
would be gone. They had such
a limited amount of time to get to know each other.
didn’t care. Maybe they’d
get to know each other better because
their time was limited.
know you only have a couple of weeks left,” Sam said, “but would you
like to go out Friday night?”
Shari?” Donna gently asked, nodding towards the vacated chair.
you asking me out on a date, Dr. Beckett?” Donna asked, coyly.
guess I am,” Sam answered, a bit nervously.
smiled and touched his hand. “I
would love to go out with you. Sam.”
rubbed his temples as he leaned his head back against the ancient leather
of his father’s chair, mulling over his day.
His head was pounding; the aspirin he’d taken hadn’t kicked in
yet. Al knew that just a few
weeks ago he would have dealt with his mixed emotions by drowning them in
an amber sea of booze. The
temptation to do just that tugged at him, but he drew every bit of
willpower he had to remain in the chair, ignoring the keys on his dresser
that told him all he had to do was take them to his car and drive to the
nearest liquor store--a location he was all too familiar with.
he said aloud. He sighed,
part of him almost wishing he had gone with Sam tonight.
But no, he had things on his mind.
Things he had to sort out before he could handle another day at the
office. Things like his lunch
listened to Bob, listened to the man’s reasoning behind his actions.
He understood part of it. Al
knew that Bob had tried everything he could think of to reach him.
One glance at the scar tissue on his wrists was all it took to
remind Al of just how far beyond help even he believed he’d gotten.
Deep down he didn’t entirely blame Bob for the hearing; he knew
he’d deserved it. He’d
even told Bob that.
he took issue with was the way Bob had gone about it.
didn’t intend for it to turn the way it did, Al,” Bob said.
He leaned forward, sincerity in his grey eyes. “You have to believe me.”
did you think was going to happen?” Al demanded.
“Did you think we were all just going to sit around and have a
nice cup of tea?!”
told me . . .”
interrupted, angrily. “I
don’t even need to hear what Eddison told you!
Whatever you brought to him was enough for him to pull the whole
thing together.” He took a
deep breath. “Bob, I know I
hit bottom. I understand that
you didn’t have a choice.”
had to think about what was best for the project,” Bob softly added.
know. Starbright is more
important than any of us. I
also know how hard I was to deal with, and I’ll tell you the same thing
I told the Committee. I’m
ashamed of how low I let myself get.”
Al paused. “But,
Bob, you crossed the line. You
went behind my back. You
didn’t even give me a clue that was coming!”
you have even listened if I’d tried?”
sighed. “Probably not. But you didn’t
try.” He shook his head. “It would have been a common courtesy, but that’s not
even the point. You betrayed
I . . .”
I listened to you. Now you
listen to me. You brought up
stuff that you promised--that you swore
to me--was off the record. ‘Friend
to friend,’ you said. So, Friend, what happened yesterday?
Did all that just go out the window?”
sat in silence for several minutes. Finally,
he said, “I’m sorry, Al. I
did betray you. I broke your
trust. But I don’t know
what else to say, except I truly am sorry.”
rubbed his face to clear his thoughts.
There really wasn’t much Bob could have said. He’d tried to explain to Al how he was only doing what he
thought was best for the project, but he seemed to realize that didn’t
hold much water. Their lunch
ended uneasily, the ride back to the project was awkward, and Al doubted
they’d ever regain the ground they’d lost.
The air had been cleared enough that they’d probably be able to
work together well enough, but anything beyond that was irrevocably lost.
stretched and rose from the chair, crossing the room to the window at the
edge of his bed. Al drew the
blinds and looked out, resting his head against the cool pane of glass.
The chill momentarily sharpened the headache, and then started
soothing it. He closed his
eyes and stayed leaning there. When he opened them, he saw a small group walking through the
parking lot. One of the bunch
pointed up in the direction of his window and said something to the
others. The eruption of
laughter was loud enough that even he could hear it.
turned away from the window and dropped the blinds. He didn’t want to admit, even to himself, how deeply it cut
him to catch hints of whispers that stopped as soon as he drew close, and
promptly resumed when they thought he was out of earshot.
this what it was like for you, Trudy?
Is this how you felt? And
you didn’t even do anything to deserve it, honey.’
off the thoughts, Al sat on the end of his bed and laid his arms against
his legs. He twisted his
forearms so that his wrists were upturned, and stared down at the wounds
that could now accurately be termed scars.
Not quite as angry looking as they had been, the red was fading to
a darkish pink. As Sam had
promised, the dots had faded to the palest white.
shivered suddenly and jumped up to start a small pace.
An envelope from the Committee sat on his desk.
He’d put off opening it all afternoon and all evening.
He supposed that some corner of his soul feared that any news from
the Committee could prove life-threatening.
Al reflexively rubbed his wrists and let the logical part of his
mind take over. Most likely
it was just his copy of the paperwork they’d made him sign, signifying
that he agreed with the stipulations they’d put into place as
conditional for keeping his job. That
knowledge didn’t make it any easier to reach for the envelope and read
right, Calavicci, enough dilly-dallying.”
He took a deep breath and picked it up.
still didn’t open it. Now
the regular flapping of the envelope against his palm was added to the mix
of his eight-step pace.
Al stopped and tore off one end of the envelope. He tilted the sleeve to the side and two sheets of paper slid
into his other hand. Al set
the remains of the envelope on his desk and sat on the edge of his bed
again, one sheet of paper in each hand.
sheet in his right hand was exactly what he thought the envelope had
contained. Al skimmed over
the conditions he’d agreed to meet and dropped the page on the bed
smaller sheet in his left hand was the surprise, handwritten on paper that
bore the army seal and proclaimed that it was from the desk of Major
Ronald Van Sant. Al’s hand
trembled slightly as he read the Major’s elegant script.
The others on the Committee
can’t truly understand what you’re going through.
As we discussed in the hearing, even my understanding can’t come
close to your reality. Then
again, I doubt anyone had the same experience over there.
I know that given your
choice, you probably wouldn’t be seeking out AA.
I’m not sure how I would react if I were in your shoes.
But several friends of mine have done just that.
Some because they were forced to, some because they realized they
needed to. Suffice it to say
that it can help you, if you give it a chance.
I hope you’ll do that.
I believed you when you
said you’d changed. From
what I know about you, you’re a man of your word.
I’d like to check up on you periodically, see how you’re doing.
Completely off the record, of course.
Please feel free to call me if you need anything.
Maybe next time you’re in
Washington we can visit the Wall together.
--Ronald Van Sant
the record,” Al whispered. He
shook his head, letting the note flutter to the bed as his hand went limp.
He stood and started pacing again.
Why was the major reaching out to him?
Surely the man had to have known about their common Vietnam
experiences before the hearing.
do I have to have an explanation? Why
can’t it be enough to have someone on my side?’
he wondered. He didn’t even
have to continue to ask himself the question to know why.
It was because he’d had his trust destroyed too many times.
Only Sam hadn’t turned on him.
stopped in his tracks and ran his hands through his hair.
That wasn’t fair to the kid.
why couldn’t he give Van Sant the same chance he was trying to give Sam?
May 4, 1985
ringing phone stopped Al in midstride.
He was planning on taking a drive, just to get away for a while.
He toyed with the idea of ignoring the call, but ended up answering
Al,” came Sam’s voice. “I
was just calling to see how you were doing.”
drive would have to wait. Al
sat down at his desk and dropped his keys on the flat surface.
doing pretty good, I suppose. How
did last night go?” he asked to deflect attention off himself, recalling
the news Sam had shared with him Thursday night about his date.
tone softened. “Oh, Al,
Donna’s great. We had a
‘great,’ huh?” Al asked, a hint of innuendo in his voice.
was so enamored of Donna that he didn’t rise to the bait, apparently not
even picking up on Al’s emphasis. “Yeah.
We went out to dinner at Micelli’s, then to Satchmo’s nightclub
for some live music and dancing. And, Al, after that we drove into the foothills and spread a
blanket out and stargazed and talked for hours.”
smiled at how moonstruck his young friend was.
He’d felt the same way about Beth after their first date.
Every moment had been perfect.
A scripted play couldn’t have gone smoother.
Their first kiss rivaled any other throughout history, they’d
thought at the time. Al blinked away a mist that suddenly filmed his eyes.
like you had a good time,” Al lightly said, hoping Sam wouldn’t catch
the huskiness in his voice. “When
are you going out again?”
right along,” Al commented. “I
don’t blame you. I’d make
the most of every minute, too.”
sigh filled his ear. “I
just don’t understand why I had to meet her now, when she’s
really like her, don’t ya, kid?”
crazy, I know. We barely know
anything about each other. But,
yeah. I do.”
go for it.”
didn’t answer, but Al could practically hear the smile that lit up his
are you sleeping?” Sam asked after a few seconds had passed.
played with the phone cord, clearing his throat to stall.
“I’m still having some problems with the nightmares.
Not as regularly as before, though.”
He glanced at the ashtray on his desk, filled to nearly overflowing
with ashes that hadn’t come from his cigar.
He gingerly picked a still-intact corner of paper from the remains
before dumping the entire contents into his wastebasket.
you dealing with them okay?” pressed Sam.
was Al’s turn to sigh. “If
you’re asking how I’m holding up, I’m still sober.”
paused. “Your first meeting
is tonight, isn’t it?”
rubbed his forehead. “Yeah.”
you want me to go with you? I
can cancel with Donna.”
Al said, too fast. He cleared
his throat again. “Don’t
cancel your plans. This is
something I need to do on my own. Besides,
it’s a closed meeting--you couldn’t come even if I wanted you to. Alcoholics only.” Bitterness
crept into his voice.
covered the phone line as they both waited awkwardly for the other to
break the hush.
getting better,” Al quietly said, finally.
“Slowly, but it is
getting better. It’s just . . .”
was clinging to Al’s unfinished thought as stubbornly as a bulldog locks
its jaws around a thick bone. “No,
Al, what is it? Tell me.”
know there’s still some booze hidden in my office,” Al spilled out the
confession. “I’m scared
to look for it, even to get rid of it, because . . . .”
persisting, Sam prompted him to complete the sentence, “Because?”
voice lowered to the point that Sam almost couldn’t hear him.
“Because I’ve been feeling that pull again.
I’ve pushed it away all week, but it hasn’t been easy.”
He exhaled roughly. “Part
of me wanted to get rid of the stuff, but what if Bob or Rachelle saw me? They wouldn’t understand.”
do need to get rid of it, though. What
if the Committee does an inspection of your office and finds it?
They won’t think that you just didn’t get around to throwing it
out,” Sam pointed out.
think I’m still drinking,” Al finished the thought. He twisted the phone cord around his index finger.
you want me to help you clean it out?
Today?” Sam offered.
would be easier to do with someone else, Al realized. Plus, the offices would be deserted for the weekend, so no
one would ever have to know.
answer gave him all the reassurance he needed.
“I’ll meet you at your office in fifteen minutes.”
dreaded walking into the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
He hadn’t even reached town yet, and already a pit large enough
to contain a small village had swallowed up his stomach.
He adjusted the volume on his car radio, trying to drown out the
apprehension. The synthesized tones of “Purple Rain” filled the
interior of his Corvette.
again checked the directions to the site where the group would convene,
keeping one eye on the stretch of highway ahead.
Although they would be meeting at a church, he’d been relieved to
find out that they’d be using the fellowship hall rather than the
sanctuary. The Committee had
arranged everything, sending the information as well as the directions. That fact didn’t help to calm his nerves.
town rose up on the horizon, nearer than he wanted it to be.
The closer he got, the closer he was to having to attend the
meeting. A bright Huey Lewis
and the News tune came on the radio. Al kept the beat by drumming his fingers against the steering
wheel, but the movements didn’t penetrate to lift his mood.
church was close to the center of the town.
Al double-checked street names as he wove along the route.
The tall, illuminated steeple beckoned the downtrodden, and if the
brightly lit windows of the church didn’t point out the location to him,
the people making their way through the side door did.
turned into the mostly empty parking lot across the street and easily
found a spot. He switched off
the engine and sat there, just watching as more cars pulled into the lot.
He watched as each person calmly left the parking lot and entered
the church. Some greeted
others taking the same path. Others kept their heads lowered and trudged forward.
Not a one fit the mental picture Al had had of strung-out bums or
neurotic basket cases. He
scratched the back of his neck, wondering where he fit in the assumptions
new group of vehicles entered the parking lot, and as the owners emerged,
Al sighed and got out of his own car.
He followed the small cluster of people inside the church.
table was set up inside the door, and the people paused to write their
names on small tags, sticking them to their shirts.
A short-haired woman supervised the table from her seat, greeting
the “regulars” and making a special welcome to those she identified as
new. She quickly spotted Al
as he drew near and she warmly motioned for him to come over.
I’m Wanda,” she said. Wanda
handed him a felt-tip marker and a blank name tag, stamped across the top
with the ubiquitous HELLO, MY NAME
IS. “Just put your
first name, honey,” she added as he bent to write.
She watched him carefully print “Albert” on the tag.
we’re glad you came tonight,” Wanda said, extending a hand to shake
after he applied the name tag to his lapel.
She had a firm grip and pumped his hand vigorously. “Coffee and cookies are on the side,” she pointed across
the room to the table where the majority of the group mingled, turning to
greet the latest new arrival.
headed toward the table, stopping just shy of the group.
He pretended to check his watch and then bent to fake tightening
his shoelaces. When he
straightened, a tall man with the slightest hint of a pot belly was
standing next to him. The
man’s name tag identified him as Timothy.
Albert,” Timothy said, shaking hands.
“I’m glad you made it. My
name is Timothy, and I’ll be sponsoring you.
You can call me Tim.”
smiled. “Al. I’m glad to finally meet you.”
He lowered his voice and took Al’s elbow to steer him away from
the crowd. “Senator Eddison
and Major Van Sant contacted me a couple of days ago.”
Al said, frowning. He folded
his arms. “I see.”
understand that coming to AA wasn’t your choice. You’re not the first person that’s been mandated into
attending meetings. I’m
sure you have a lot of resentment about being here, but I hope that in
time you’ll be able to move past that.
In the meantime, I want to set some things straight.
I don’t know what you were told about what to expect from me.” He paused, waiting for Al to supply that information.
Al said, “They told me that a contact would report on my attendance and
nodded. “That’s not
entirely true. I won’t be
sharing any information with anybody.”
He gestured around the fellowship hall.
“This is your sanctuary, your safe zone, as it were.
Nothing that is said in here ever leaves these four walls.
What I will do is sign a slip every week showing that you were
here, but you’re the one who’ll take that and make sure that your
supervisors--or whoever--gets it.”
muscles relaxed so tangibly that even Tim picked up on the shift in his
confidentiality is of paramount importance to us, Al. That’s why we only use first names here.
I’m the only one that knows your last name, and I wouldn’t even
know that if you hadn’t been mandated into coming.”
He patted Al’s shoulder encouragingly.
“Don’t feel like you have to contribute tonight.
Obviously, if you have something you’d like to share, please
speak up, but I want you to know that no one will think any less of you if
you just sit back and listen. Do
you have any questions for me?”
had hundreds, but shook his head.
yourself to coffee and snacks, then,” Tim advised. “We’ll be getting started in about five minutes or so.
That should give you a chance to meet a few of us before then.”
only nodded. He made his way
to the table, where the crowd was now thinning.
He poured himself a cup of black coffee and sat down in a chair at
the edge of the room, furthest away from the small groups who chatted with
each other. Sipping the
coffee, Al studied the other people in attendance.
Had he seen any of them on the street, he would have been
hard-pressed to pinpoint even one as someone with a drinking problem.
As he surveyed the room, he noticed a couple of other people
hanging back much as he did. Neither
of them looked particularly comfortable about being there, and Al
experienced a momentary empathy with them.
One of them, a petite redhead, made eye contact with him and
smiled, shrugging self-deprecatingly.
Al returned the smile, then returned to his people-watching.
walked to the center of the room and clapped his hands together.
“Shall we get started, folks?”
buzz of chatter momentarily increased, then came to a halt.
The room was filled instead with the screech of metal folding
chairs being dragged across the floor as the members formed a cluster in
the center of the room. Al
reluctantly relocated to the spot as well, taking a position on the outer
edge of the layered semi-circle.
is going to speak tonight,” Tim announced.
“Before I turn things over to him, are there any announcements
needing to be made?”
couple of hands went up, and Tim called on each person in turn.
The first person, an elderly woman, reminded the group about an
upcoming potluck dinner. The
second speaker was Wanda, and she asked for volunteers to assist her with
an informational meeting for a D.W.I. program. Several hands shot up before she informed them that they
needed to wait til the end of the meeting to see her personally.
Tim sat down and Fritz, a short man in his mid-fifties, took the floor.
those of you who don’t know me, my name is Fritz,” he said by way of
introduction. “I’m an
alcoholic, and I’ve been sober for six months now.”
A round of applause broke into his speech.
He bobbed his head in gratitude, his chubby cheeks turning bright
pink. “It’s been a long
six months, though. I lost my
family, lost my job, and lost my house before I saw what alcohol was doing
to me.” Fritz went on to describe the struggles he’d had with the
bottle and how AA was helping him to cope on a day-by-day basis.
He talked for a good forty-five minutes before he began trailing
off. “I know it might be
too much to hope for that I’ll get my family back,” he said, his eyes
filling with tears that spilled down his round cheeks, “but it’s one
of the goals I have set to make amends to them.
Just to have contact with them, to see my son again.
To see my wife.” He shook his head and raised a hand to the group.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, and sat down.
group sat in silence, then someone started clapping. Al, who’d been listening intently to Fritz and identifying
with more of his testimony than he wanted to acknowledge, joined in at the
last. He thought that was the
end of the meeting and that he could leave, but Tim took the floor again
and started a discussion on some of the things Fritz had talked about.
shifted uncomfortably in his chair as the group talked about their
individual battles with drinking and the things that were helping them to
stay sober. Each new story
could have been describing a piece of his own life.
The circumstances were different, but the outcome was all the same.
Each of them described a feeling of powerlessness and chaos in
their lives. One young woman
even confessed to attempting suicide rather than face another day of
guilt, and Al cringed, folding his arms and tucking his wrists under as if
the others could see through his cuffs to the scars.
finally reminded them to renew their commitment to focus only on making it
through the next day without drinking.
“Don’t look at 365 days worth of struggling,” he advised
them, “take it in 24 hour blocks. ‘Just
for today, I won’t drink.’ If
you find yourself struggling, remember to look beyond yourself for
help.” Tim paused.
“If you need any support literature, it’s at the back of the
room as you leave. I’d like
to thank you all for coming. See
you next week.”
group rose and rearranged the chairs.
Some clustered into bunches for socializing again, while others
made a beeline for the door. Al
joined the swift of feet.
was waiting for him at the door with a signed slip of paper.
“Thanks for hanging in there, Al,” he said as he handed him the
confirmation of his attendance. “I hope you got something out of it.”
nodded. “It’s a lot to
think about,” he answered honestly.
it is. I felt the same way my
was that?” Al asked, engaging in the conversation despite wanting to be
been sober for over 5 years now.”
do you still come?”
smiled. “I’ll never stop
being an alcoholic. I’ll
never reach a point where I can say, ‘Yes, I’m cured!’
I stopped coming for a period of time, but I found that I missed
the support of the group, and I missed the opportunity to help others
reach sobriety like I did. That’s
why I got into sponsorship.”
see,” Al said, taking a step closer to the door. Tim sensed his discomfort.
He dug into his pocket and pulled out a small metal box.
Opening it, he withdrew a business card.
“If you need anything, anything at all, give me a call.
I don’t care what time of the day or night it is.”
took the card and tucked it into his breast pocket without looking at it.
“Thanks,” he nodded.
I also have some information for you to look over before next week.
Just so you understand what we’re about a little better.”
Tim bent behind the welcome table and came up with a small folder,
which he handed to Al.
nodded his thanks again, wishing himself home as if he had Dorothy’s
smiled and patted him on the upper arm.
“I’ll see you next week then.”
bobbed his assent and fled the building.
May 11, 1985
and Donna snuggled together beneath the saddle blanket.
The remains of their beach campfire smoldered, thin wisps of smoke
curling into the air. The sun peeked its sleepy rays past the waves breaking on the
horizon, painting the sky with layers of golden pastel colors.
The deep purple of the twilight shattered into violets, pinks, baby
blues, and rosy golden hues, which bounced off the pebbly clouds like
golden cobblestones along the streets of Heaven.
leaned her head against Sam’s shoulder, lacing her fingers with his.
He tightened the grip he had on her waist and pressed his lips to
her temple. A tear glistened
on her lashes, breaking free to roll down her cheek and moisten Sam’s
is it?” he asked, brushing hair away from her face.
do you mean, what is it?” She
sat up straight and adjusted his shirt she wore over her bathing suit,
pushing the too long cuffs back to reveal her wristwatch.
Frowning, she extended her slender arm so he could read the dial.
“My flight leaves in three hours.
Three hours, Sam.” She drew her knees into her chest and scrubbed at her eyes.
not think about it,” Sam breathed, tracking a line of kisses from her
ear to her mouth.
responded passionately before breaking away.
we have to think about it. It’s
staring us in the face.” She
rested her chin on her knees and stared out at the ever brightening sky
and sea. “This has been the
best two weeks of my life.” Her
shoulders quivered as sobs suddenly overtook her.
“I don’t want to go now.”
took hold of her shoulders, rubbing circles with his thumbs as he bent
close to her ear. “I
don’t want you to go, either.”
I have to,” she sighed, tilting her head back to make eye contact with
him. She touched his cheek,
running a finger across his lips. “Sam,
I could probably pull some strings and get you on at the company, too.”
shook his head, taking her hand in his and pressing it close to his chest.
“I appreciate the thought, Donna, but I’m not interested in
working for a private business.”
I don’t guess you would be,” she quietly said, pulling her hand back
and physically drawing into herself.
She breathed in and out, slowly and deeply, wiping at her eyes to
catch stray tears.
do we do now?” she wanted to know, the question catching in her throat.
now, we take a walk on the beach,” Sam answered, rising and pulling her
to her feet. Gooseflesh
prickled along his arms and legs, and he bent to toss his windbreaker on
over his bare arms. Unfortunately,
he would have to shiver in his swim trunks until the heat from the sun
warmed the beach. Donna
chafed her own arms and shifted her chilled legs until he wrapped his arm
around her shoulder.
know what I meant,” Donna persisted as they left a trail of footprints
in the pristine, as yet untouched shoreline.
The surf teased their ankles, filling and nearly obliterating the
prints they left in their wake.
tightened his arm around her and kissed her cheek. “Yes, I do. And,
no, I don’t know,” he answered, looking out to sea for a moment.
“But we’ll make the best of it, I guess.”
have a phone, I hope?”
laughed at that, her reddened eyes brightening merrily.
“Yes, I imagine I will.”
Sam pretended to mull it over. “An
address? I can send mail to
you, can’t I?”
you don’t suppose there might actually be an airport, do you?
I mean, that I could take a flight out there to see you?”
slapped his bare chest. “All
right, you’ve made your point.” She
stood on her tiptoes to kiss him. “You’re
right, we’ll work it out.”
twined his fingers in her hair as they kissed, waves lapping their feet.
I don’t have to like it,” Donna murmured when they broke apart.
Sam lowered his head to hers.
up and kiss me.”
the small bag containing a fresh box of cigars and a new book tucked under
his arm, Al walked into the residential wing.
The trip into town had refreshed him, and he’d enjoyed the
opportunity to stroll easily around the shopping mall.
He’d have to attend his second AA meeting that night, but for now
the evening seemed further away than the few short hours it actually was.
paused when he entered the lobby as the sound of someone sniffling filled
his ears. Searching for the
source, he found Shari slouched down on the vinyl couch, wiping her eyes.
What’s wrong?” He sat down next to her and took her hand.
It, um, it was just the show I was watching,” she said, her tears
bringing a thick, nasal quality to her voice.
glanced at the TV.
Island makes you cry?” He
looked at her askance.
chuckled halfheartedly and shook her head.
“Okay,” she sighed. “I
just couldn’t stand being in my quarters any longer. And I figured there wouldn’t be much traffic through here
you look like you just lost your best friend.”
sob caught in her throat. “Something
this have anything to do with Donna Elysee’s resignation?” Al gently
asked, recalling that the two had been good friends.
nodded to answer his question and squeezed her eyes shut as a fresh
barrage of tears hit her.
sorry, hon,” he whispered, drawing her into a paternal hug.
She let herself go limp in his arms, and he rubbed her shoulder,
gently rocking back and forth.
let her cry, reflecting on how Sam had been very distant the last couple
of days, a slight depression beginning to take hold of him as Donna’s
departure grew nearer. If he
hadn’t experienced a similar emotion in his own life, Al would have
doubted it was possible to get so close to someone in such a brief period
of time. He could only imagine how Shari felt. She gave her friendship and love away so easily and so
completely, it was only natural that she’d feel the deep sting when
someone she cared about left.
her sniffles grew less and less frequent.
Al didn’t shift his position at all, allowing her to be the one
to pull away. She apologized
when she did, scrubbing at eyes that had acquired red, puffy lids.
sorry, Al. I feel so . . . so
grade-school about all of this.”
he assured her.
sighed and rubbed her hands across her face several times.
“I must look a mess,” she mused.
pretended to scrutinize her face. “Well,
you’re no Ginger right now, that’s for sure.”
He winked. “But
then, I always preferred Mary Ann.”
laughed through straggling tears.
better,” Al smiled. He bent
forward to lightly kiss her forehead.
“Are you going to be all right?”
took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah.
I’m gonna go wash my face and take a walk outside, I think.”
She stood up from the couch and kissed Al on the cheek before she
left. “Thank you, Al.”
mention it, sweetie,” he called after her.
He sat there for a few minutes, wondering how Sam was dealing with
the loss of his new love, until the closing song of Gilligan’s Island snapped his attention back to where he was.
Al stood and switched off the television, turning to head down the
passageway to his quarters.
phone started ringing when he reached the doorway. He fumbled with his keys, finagling the door open on the
third ring. He tossed the
keys on his bed, along with the package, and closed the door behind him.
The phone rang a fourth and fifth time before he was able to answer
he asked, a little out of breath. He
expected to hear Sam’s voice; he’d wanted to check on how the kid was
hanging in there anyway.
Is that you?” It wasn’t Sam.
Al said, hesitantly. “Who
I’m sorry. This is Ronald
afternoon, Major,” Al answered, instinctively straightening his posture.
is just fine for today,” Van Sant corrected him. He waited a few moments, and then continued when Al didn’t
respond. “I just wanted to
touch base with you, see how you’re doing.”
you get the slip I mailed in? I
have my second meeting tonight,” Al answered, formally.
yes, we got that. That’s
not what I’m talking about, though.”
what I was worried about.’
afraid I . . . .”
not a trick question. How are
you doing?” Van Sant asked again.
And you?” Al
hadn’t lost any formality yet.
Sant sighed. “I was hoping
this would be a chance for us to talk, you know, outside of a business
don’t know about you, but I look forward to the opportunity to talk with
someone who’s had a similar experience.”
rather focus on today,” Al said, afraid that Van Sant sought an exchange
understand, but sometimes the things we saw just won’t stay buried, will
why you tried to drown them out with alcohol.’
He didn’t speak it, but the words were there, even unsaid.
I guess they won’t,” Al finally answered.
stretched out before Van Sant spoke again.
“You’re not ready to talk about this.”
very observant.” He
surprised himself with his brazenness, but Van Sant had said this wasn’t
a business call. The major
was true to his word.
you ever change your mind . . . .”
He let the offer hang there.
you.” Al hesitated, then
grabbed hold of the generosity the major had given at the outset of the
call by addressing him by his first name.
uncomfortable quiet extended. Each
military officer cleared his throat, but didn’t speak.
Sant finally took pity on him. “I’ve
gotta take my son to the park, so I’ll let you go.”
Al said. He made an uneasy
goodbye and hung up the phone.
two hours until his meeting.
fifty more meetings to go to fulfill his obligation.
was going to be a long year.
To Be Continued