New Winslow S4E28
Noah had been to plenty of meetings in rehab. Once a day minimum. He’d gotten comfortable talking at them eventually, sharing his stories among sympathetic peers. There had been a safety there, and a solidarity among the newly sober that had made him feel like he belonged. And he’d kept it up now that he was home, going to one or two meetings a day in the surrounding towns.
But now here he was, hesitating outside the door of the meeting in the basement of the Congregational Church. This was different. This was a meeting in his hometown, where he’d probably know people.
Just go in, he told himself sternly as he stood in front of a brightly colored display of children’s artwork hanging on the brick walls. You’re an adult. You were at a meeting two hours ago. You can do this, just be an adult and go in.
Or he could leave, a little voice whispered. He could leave here, get a bottle of whiskey somewhere outside of town, and just go back to normal.
Noah was disgusted with himself for the thought, but that didn’t make it less appealing.
“Hello out there,” came a familiar voice through the door. “Come on in, we don’t bite.”
He’d been caught. And he didn’t expect the relief that poured over him. Maybe he’d been closer to going to the liquor store than he had thought.
He walked into the room, keeping his footsteps soft and trying to take as little space as he could, even though he was probably the tallest person in the room. There was a small group of people, maybe twelve or so, sitting in a circle of folding chairs. At the front of the group, he immediately recognized Mr. Rodowicz, his tenth-grade chemistry teacher.
No, that couldn’t be right. “I’m sorry,” Noah said, backing toward the door and shaking his head. “I’m just…I’m not sure if-”
Mr. Rodowicz smiled, that same easy smile he remembered from hours of after school help. “Come on in, son,” he said.
He nodded toward the table in the back. “There’s coffee and cookies, grab yourself some and join us.”
Noah nodded and started shuffling toward the table. The room was quiet, and he wondered if they were waiting for him to hurry up. He took a couple cookies, set them on a small plate, then poured himself a cup of black coffee.
Turning back, he glanced at the group. There was one chair free. Right beside Roman Beckett, who was focused on something on his phone.
Noah walked toward the seat and sat down. As he did so, Roman looked up from his phone and smiled. “Hey, man.”
Roman lowered his voice. “You might want to drink that coffee now. It’s bad hot, but it’s horrendous cold.”
Noah nodded, still unsure if he should really be here. Roman went back to his phone. Noah took a sip of coffee and muffled a cough, cringing at the burnt, stale taste and trying not to just spit it back into the cup.
“You’re not wrong,” he muttered.
Roman didn’t answer, but he could see the corners of his mouth turn up as he finished typing whatever he was writing.
There were a few greetings that Noah vaguely heard as he sat still in his chair, trying to quell the panic in his chest. But as the meeting progressed, the tightness loosened and he was able to relax a little, sipping the coffee as it cooled and congealed in his cup.
This was no different from the meeting he’d been to this morning. It was different, sure, but it wasn’t like New Winslow was suddenly going to publicly announce that he was an addict just because he’d gone to a meeting in his hometown.
Nope, you did that yourself.
That little voice was back, whispering in his ear as he tried to focus on what Mr. Rodowicz was saying. He glanced discretely over at Roman, who was watching Mr. Rodowicz, but also seemed like he might be falling asleep in his chair. Noah debated whether or not to nudge the other man. Up close, Roman seemed like maybe he was getting sick or something. Noah looked away quickly, not wanting to seem like he was staring. But Roman looked pale.
“I wanted to extend a welcome to our newcomers this week,” Mr. Rodowicz said, smiling with a quick glance toward Noah. “We’re all very happy you’re here. There’s no theme this week, so I’d like to welcome you to talk if you’d like to.”
Noah hadn’t spoken this morning in New Braintree. He’d considered it, but lost his nerve at the last minute. But after that meeting, he was feeling better. This was fine. This was like being at meetings in the clinic. Everybody was as fucked up as he was, right?
There was a beat of quiet, then he surprised himself by raising his hand. Mr. Rodowicz turned and called on him in a move so familiar that for less than a second, Noah was back in the classroom.
He cleared his throat. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Noah and I’m an alcoholic.”
The others greeted him in a low tone that was familiar by now. Noah had participated plenty in meetings at the clinic and then at a few of the meetings he’d been to in the weeks since he got home. But this was the room where Mia’s daycare was held. He could see the toys tucked into the corner and something about that made it feel right.
“I’ve been sober for fifty-six days,” he continued, fiddling with the napkin in his hand. “I’ve been out of rehab for two weeks. And I feel better. Like, I feel like me again. And I don’t think I’ve felt like me since my dad died.”
Something passed over Mr. Rodowicz’s face as Noah said that. They’d been colleagues for thirty years, of course Mr. Rodowicz missed him too.
“I’m better, but I feel like I’m walking around with no skin, you know?” Noah continued, tearing a line down the middle of the napkin. “Like I didn’t live the past few years. I watched from behind, like, dirty glass. And every time I interacted with people, I hurt them. And my friends took me back. They took me back and I don’t deserve that.”
His voice caught a little on the last word and he coughed, covering his mouth with a shaking hand. “They’re not waiting for me to fuck up again, but I am. And everything feels just too bright. Like it’s too cold, everything that touches me feels too intense. I can’t sleep unless I wear myself out, so my yard has never looked better.”
A small ripple of laughter made him feel a little more balanced. “So yeah, I don’t know where I’m going with this,” he said. “Except that I’m grateful. I’m so fucking grateful and so fucking scared.”
Could he say fuck in a church? Oh well, nobody seemed to be particularly concerned about it.
The napkin was shredded in his lap now and he looked at it as a small smattering of applause went around the circle. He glanced over at Roman, who was watching him intently. The other man looked exhausted, but he smiled at Noah and Noah smiled back at him.
Noah looked over as he poured his second cup of terrible coffee after the meeting. Roman was standing next to him. “I’m glad you came,” he said.
He was pretty sure he hadn’t looked Roman in the eye since Christmas Eve. He’d been too ashamed, too deep in denial to deal with what he saw there. But now it felt good to talk person to person instead of feeling like it was person to slug.
“Thanks,” Noah said. “Um, thank you for telling me about it.”
“How are you doing?”
Noah laughed as he took a sip of the terrible coffee. “Good question,” he said. “Um, alive?”
Roman laughed too. “Yeah, I feel that.”
They stood quietly for a moment. Roman was a little fidgety, but Noah chalked it up to the fact that he looked incredibly sleep-deprived. “How are you?” he asked.
Roman’s face fell and for a second Noah thought he might actually tell him how he was doing. He’d happily listen, but he knew he might be the most useless person here right now to do anything to actually help. But then Roman smiled bitterly and shook his head.
“Alive,” he said.
Then he reached over and squeezed Noah’s shoulder. “Listen,” he said. “Let me know if you need anything, okay? This shit can be tough, but you’re not alone.”
The stinging in Noah’s eyes caught him off guard, but he nodded. “Thank you.”
Roman nodded back. “I gotta go,” he said. “Got another meeting with Iris tonight.”
Hadn’t Andrew said something about a meeting with Iris tonight? “Wait,” Noah said. “What’s the meeting?”
Why did Roman suddenly look a little uncomfortable? “Sorry,” Noah said, holding up his hands. “I just…my friend…”
“Oh, Andrew,” Roman said, relaxing somewhat. “Yeah, we’re working together on the curse. Did he tell you about it?”
Had he? If he had mentioned it, Noah had apparently been too drunk to notice or care. “I think so,” he half-lied.
Roman waved goodbye and walked out the door, leaving Noah alone by the coffee table. He’d head out in a minute, there was really no reason to stick around. The meeting was over and he didn’t know anybody else here except Mr. Rodowicz, who was packing up his own things to leave.
But then Mr. Rodowicz walked over to him. “Hey, how are you doing, Noah?” he asked.
The easy calm of his voice hadn’t changed since tenth grade, when his dad insisted he go after school for extra help on his failing chemistry grade.
“Hi, Mr. Rodowicz.”
Mr. Rodowicz laughed. “Noah, it’s been nearly twenty years since you were my student. I think you can call me Gene.”
He wasn’t actually sure he could do that, but thankfully Mr. Rodowicz just moved forward. “Are you doing okay?” he asked. “I was really glad to see you here today.”
Wow, word must have really gotten around if his high school chemistry teacher had heard. Noah’s first instinct was to close off and change the subject. But six weeks of regular therapy kicked in. “I’m really glad I came,” he said.
“Your dad would be proud.”
His eyes were burning now and there was no way he could respond to that without crying. So Noah just nodded quickly. “Thanks,” he choked out.
Mr. Rodowicz smiled. “See you soon,” he said.
Then he walked out, leaving Noah with tears in his eyes and a terrible coffee cooling in his hand.