Friday, April 30, 2010

A Step Closer

It was a surreal feeling…sitting there watching the hands on the clock approach 6:30. I was sipping a cup of coffee (tasting like it had been sitting on the warmer since before the 4:30 group started), but the acrid taste didn’t bother me too much tonight. The aroma of basil and marinara floated on the air from the next room where two flat boxes sat on the counter…a bottle of warm Diet Pepsi, cups and paper plates in the plastic grocery sack beside it. Only about half of the chairs were full tonight, one of them occupied by an unfamiliar face…a late-comer from the earlier group. I smiled to myself as I thought about the fact that next week, even fewer chairs would be filled.

“So, this is your last night…how has it been for you?” the therapist asked.

The words seemed to flow effortlessly as I spoke…sometimes looking at the doctor, other times making eye contact with each of the men around the room.

“I’ve shared with the group before that when I got out of prison, I really didn’t want to come to treatment…and actually didn’t really think that I needed it. But I have to say that this has been a great experience and I’ve met men that I have become friends with and that I trust in ways that I’ve never been able to before.”

The therapist sat there, jotting a few notes on his pad…silently counting the names of those who had signed in. It made me wonder if he was calculating his income for the night or if he was checking to see who was still absent. Looking up he said,

“I think you brought pizza. Why don’t we stop here and eat it before it gets cold and then continue to check in.”

I went into the next room and grabbed the two large pizzas and returned to the therapy room, passing them around to the men. My closest friend in the group, my “coffee buddy”, hadn’t arrived yet. He had called me earlier to tell me that he was running late but that he would be there for the pizza. At this point, it looked like he was going to miss out, or at least have to settle for the cold leftovers.

Settling back into his chair with a large slice of combination pizza and a glass of Diet Coke, the doctor asked me

“Is there any advice that you would give to the group?”

There were a number of comments that passed through my mind that I quickly disregarded.

“I really think the most important thing is just to be willing to be transparent. It has become so apparent to me over these past five years that until I, or any of us, is willing to take a genuine in-depth look at our past and how it led to where we are today…we can never heal.”

“Secondly, and maybe almost as important…make sure you pay the doctor here or you’ll never get out of treatment.”

A round of soft laughter echoed around the room as the men clearly understood what I was saying. The doctor has affirmed a number of times that everyone needed to be caught up to date on their payments before he could release them from group. My “coffee buddy” knew that only too well and was only getting out because of a little help I provided him.

“Well, I just want you to know that you’ve really been a great addition to our group. You’ve provided insightful comments to the other men and I’m sure that you will do well. It looks like you’re going to have some free time now on your Thursday nights”, the therapist added.

“Actually, I’m planning to begin writing my book and Thursday night’s would be a good time to dedicate to that.”

I spent the next several minutes explaining what I wanted my book to be about and as I was finishing, my “coffee buddy” finally arrived. As he grabbed a plate and a couple of slices of pizza, I said

“Hey. I took your advice and went down to Chuckee Cheese’s to try to get the pizza. Man, there must have been 1000 kids running around so I just had to sit there for about 20 minutes waiting. I finally just gave up and went to Pizza Hut instead.”

The room suddenly grew quiet as each one of the men tried to process what they had just heard. Even the therapist stopped his pizza dripping fingers midway to his mouth as he and the other looked at me. The look in the eyes told me what they were thinking.

Chuckee Cheese?
Twenty minutes?

I finally couldn’t hold my laughter back any longer.

“I wouldn’t go to Chuckee Cheese even if it was allowed. That pizza is just too nasty for me.”

You could practically hear the sighs of relief as they realized I was only joking. Slices of pizza were soon being once again consumed and the nearly empty bottle of Diet Pepsi was passed around the room once more.

The remainder of the evening was a quick check-in for the other men. It was soon time to go, and as I picked up the trash from our pizza party, I received best wishes from each of the men. I was invited back if was ever in the neighborhood on a Thursday evening (at no cost), and politely said it might happen. As I walked out the door and down the stair, my step seemed a little lighter…my smile a little broader and my future a little closer.

Photo from Flickr

1 comment:

Deb Shucka said...

You've made me cry with this. I love that you helped your coffee buddy. I love that you bought pizza for them. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you told the Chuckie Cheese joke.

More than anything I love that you declared out loud that you're going to spend your Thursday nights now working on your book.

I am as proud of you as it's possible for a person to be, not just for this milestone but mostly for who you are.

I love you.