“Gayle, you’ve gotta to see this.” I’m sitting at my desk when about five of the guys who live in the halfway house where I used to work come over to me in a collective fit of laughter. One of them holds a cellphone up to my face and I watch a short video of Matt, the only one NOT laughing, as he rolls what is clearly to become a gutter ball of epic proportions. I watch as he watches from the top of the lane and hear as Rich, the guy filming lets out a giggling, “Whomp, whomp.”
I used to love moments like these, realizing that the guys actually wanted to hang out together outside of the house because they truly liked each other. I’d listen and smile as they would tell me about who got the highest and lowest scores, and how they almost missed curfew because Keith couldn’t untie his bowling shoes. When I’d make some sappy comment or say, “Awwwww…” the most cynical of the group would remind me that bowling was sort of a sober substitute for their past lives. Not that he didn’t enjoy it, but that it was a reminder that life before didn’t involve a curfew or peeing in a cup. He has since died of an overdose.
They’d show me post-AA meeting pictures of them at dinner, empty plates in front of them and glasses of Coke off to the side. I would find myself fixated on those glasses of Coke and wonder if they were resented as some sort of consolation prize in a night of sober fun. I’ve since come to the realization that that was me projecting. I love nothing more than a cold glass of Diet Coke.
Two of the guys had what I used to refer to as a standing “date night” every Tuesday. They’d get cheap Celtics tickets or go to a Chinese buffet, but it was their thing. They were very Mutt and Jeff coming from two completely different socioeconomic backgrounds but they had their addiction in common and teased each other mercilessly. I loved coming in on Wednesdays so I could hear about the night before, one always complaining how he had to shell out the money for the other’s food. I remember the one time that one of these guys took someone else to a Red Sox game I felt as if he were being unfaithful.
We’ve all since moved on from that halfway house and I’ve kept in touch with many of the guys through social media. I still love seeing pictures of them getting together outside of the confines of a structured program, two of them at a golf course, a couple of them at a beach, several after an AA meeting in their old neighborhoods. Some have stayed sober but most have not. Some have gotten into the endless loop of relapse and new halfway houses, and new temporary friends to have sober fun with.
I look at the posted Facebook pictures of the guys at dinner with a whole new bunch and examine the faces of the ones I knew from the house. In some I see joy and in some I see a sense of deep resignation, an exhausted resource of “here I go again.” For so many of them this has been their lives for so long that they are inured to this folding into another set of prior strangers. I know from my own life that resiliency can sap the energy from the strongest of us and I hope and pray that these wonderful men’s cycle will be broken and that pictures of them with their actual families, their parents and their spouses and children will take the place of the next group photo.