A Baltimore Love Story

Nat nervously climbed the crumbling, concrete steps.  He hoped this place would be different.  He hoped they would let him stay.  He paused at the church’s double doors.  Using the windows as a mirror, he smoothed back his hair, twisted his mustache, and straightened his monocle.  Satisfied with the reflection, he pushed the church doors wide and stepped into a large empty space.

The neglected room made Nat sad.  The walls were made of cinder block and painted dirty off-white.  The overhead fluorescents were dim.  The floor was comprised of over-waxed, black tile, and the ceiling was crumbling and stained.

All the staples of a recovery meeting were present:  there was a circle of chairs in the middle of the room, a table with coffee and white Styrofoam cups in the corner, and a dried puddle from an ignored roof leak.  Five people were sitting and chatting.  Another three were huddled around the coffee pot.  Nat was happy he didn’t recognize any of them.  His recovery group experience thus far had been rough.  He needed a fresh start.

Nat strolled over to the coffee table and poured himself a cup.  One of the three people chatting made eye contact with him and smiled.  The others were engrossed in a debate regarding the most recent Ravens trades and thus took no notice of Nat.

The coffee was swill, but Nat drank it anyway.  Having something in his hands eased his anxiety.  The bitter burnt sludge filled his stomach, muzzling the cravings.

Nat strained to remember how many different meetings he had tried this month.  Four different AAs and three NAs?  Or was that last one an NA, too?  Then, there were the three other nondescript recovery programs.  All of them had asked him not to come back.  Some gently.  Some had cruelly laughed him from the room.

Nat straightened his monocle again, pulled on the flaps of his bow tie tight, and twirled his mustache.  He hated that no one took him seriously.  Just because his addictions were different, didn’t mean they were less painful or destructive.

A tall thin woman with stringy blond hair joined the coffee crew.  Nat couldn’t get a beat on how old she was.  She might have been in her fifties, or she could have lived a tough thirty-five years.  In a low, grave voice she said, “Suze wants us to come over and get started.”

Nat moved from the corner to the circle.  He took a chair next to a thin African American man.  Even though the room was warm, the man wore multiple coats.  He smelled of sweat and cat urine.  Nat immediately regretted his choice of seat.  Not wanting to draw attention to himself, instead of simply standing and moving to a different location, Nat tried to discreetly slide his chair away, hoping for fresher air a few inches to the right.

“What’s that on you face?” the smelly man asked with a welcoming smile.  Nat noticed he was missing three teeth.

“It’s a monocle,” Nat was indignant, amazed by the man’s ignorance.

The smelly man looked perplexed.  “What’s it for?  Shouldn’t you have two of ‘em?  You know, like one for each eye?”

Nat sighed.  He was already exhausted by this conversation.  Thankfully a perky voice came to his rescue.

“Welcome everyone,” an excited woman sitting across from Nat said to the room.  “Welcome to Resurrection Road Recovery – Triple R Night!  Here we combine the twelve steps with Biblical literacy, intense accountability, and a little bit of fun.  Let’s start by introducing ourselves and explaining what has brought us here.”  Nat thought she sounded like a kindergarten teacher on the first day of school, before the children had robbed her of all hope and joy.  The perky woman wore a white blouse and a brown skirt.  Nat respected her excellent posture.

“My name is Susan Christine,” the chipper woman continued.  “And I’m not actually addicted to anything.  I’m just here to help everyone else who is, like Jesus.”  She smiled to the room and then motioning to the smelly man next to Nat, Susan said, “Ronald, why don’t you go next and introduce yourself.  Tell us your name, why you’re here, and if you were a car, what kind of car you would you be and why?”

At that moment that Nat’s life changed forever.  The double doors crept open and an angelic voice floated through them, “Sorry I’m late everyone.  Is it too late to join in?”

“It’s never too late to add a little Sally to the party mix,” Susan said with a huge smile. “We haven’t even started our ‘I’d rather die before I’ statements.  Come on in and pop a squat.”

Nat had never seen such perfection.  The angel’s shimmering black hair was cut in a bob.  Her eyes were dark and mysterious.  She wore an amazing red dress and a matching red bow in her hair.  Nat was enticed and electrified.  He was chilled and warmed.  No person had ever had such an effect on him. When Sally took the seat on his right, his heart raced and he began to sweat.  Once again he smoothed back his hair, tightened his tie, twirled his mustache, and smiled.

“Hey Sally,” the stinky man said.

“We’re introducing ourselves,” Susan reminded.

“Oh yeah.  Sorry Suze,” the stinky man said.  “My name is Ronald.  And I’m…”

“Last names, too, please,” interrupted Susan.  “Only first is the worst, but first and last is a blast.”

“Oh.  Uh.  Yeah. Thanks Suze.  My name’s Ronald Green.  I use heroine.  I’ve been out of detox for…um…two weeks now…I think.  I’m fightin’ to stay clean through Thanksgivin’.  My daughter says that if I can show up clean she might let me stay for dinner.”

“What kind of car would you be?” Susan interrupted.

“Um…I don’t know…one that runs I guess,” Ronald said with a grin.  The room laughed.

Nat didn’t hear a word.  All he could think about was the stunning Aphrodite to his right.  He was so nervous.  He pushed his hair back and twirled his mustache again.  He wished he had some wax on him.

“Excuse me.  New friend?”  the perky voice intruded.

Nat jumped when he realized the whole room was watching him stare at Sally.  She smiled pretending not to notice his gaze.  He liked it when she smiled.

“It’s your turn.  The share stick is passed to you,” Susan said.

Nat gave his mustache another twist and straightened his shirt.  “My name is Nat Boh and I’m a Soluanum-tubersom-aholic.  If I were a car I would be a new one, fresh and crisp, right off the factory floor.”

There was silence.  The whole room sat, confused.  Even Susan’s smile was replaced with a quizzical line.

Nat was not deterred.  He adjusted his monocle and continued, “I prefer them fried and salted.  But I’ve also been known to consume them in vinegar or with barbeque flavored dust on them.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” said the stringy haired woman with the gruff voice.

“He means he’s addicted to potato chips,” Sally clarified sweetly.

“Yes.  Exactly right,” affirmed Nat.  He was thrilled Sally understood.  He shifted to look her in the eyes.  “It’s a difficult addiction,” Nat continued.  “I can’t stop eating them.  I eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I eat them before lunch.  I eat them as I fall to sleep.  It is ruining my life.  I even carry them with me.”  Nat pulled a chip from his shirt pocket and offered it to Sally.  “Would you like one of my chips, dear?” he said graciously.  Sally smiled, took the chip, and ate it.

“What the hell are you talking about?” said the woman with the gruff voice.

“I don’t get it,” Ronald questioned.  “Eating potato chips has ruined your life?”

“Yo, you think this is funny,” complained a towering man a few chairs away.  He wore a white wife-beater that revealed large muscles and several fading crucifix tattoos.  “This some kind of joke to you?  There are people in here that are really hurting man.  This shit ain’t funny.”

Sensing the sudden escalation in tone, Susan became nervous.  “All right everyone.  One-two-three.  Eyes on me.  Let’s just stay calm,” she rattled.

“This is a serious problem,” Nat said defensively.  “I am an addict.  I need help.  It’s a disease.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” said the woman with the gruff voice again.

“I don’t know man,” said Ronald sitting forward.  “If you eat chips all the time, how are you so thin?”

“You better get up out of here,” said the angry tattooed man.  “I mean it yo.  You can’t come in here and make fun of us.  This is serious shit we’re dealin’ with.  We ain’t got time for your jokes.”

Nat scanned the circle.  His needy expression was met with angry or confused glares.  It was happening again.  “I should go,” he said to the room.  “Clearly this place is not sophisticated enough to speak to my issues.”  Nat stood, turned his back on the circle, and exited without looking back.

“Come back, again,” Susan called apologetically as the door swung closed.

Nat was almost a block down the street when he realized someone was chasing after him.  “Hey, wait up,” the angelic voice rang.  Nat turned to face her.  “I’m sorry for how they treated you back there,” Sally said.  “Who are we to judge your problems?  You sounded like you’re really in pain.”

“It’s terrible,” Nat said.  He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a chip, but just before he could get it to his mouth Sally stopped him.  She took it from his hand and ate it for him.  “Wow.  Thanks,” said Nat surprised.

“Sure,” said Sally.  “Why don’t we go somewhere we can talk?  Maybe I can help you.  Maybe we could work out some kind of sponsor-type relationship.  I don’t know?  I mean, I haven’t been where you’ve been; but maybe I could help.  I’ve been sober for over a year now.”

“I know a coffee place on Cross?” suggested Nat.

“Sounds fantastic,” Sally replied.

They walked close.  After a few paces Nat reached down and took her hand.  “You know,” Nat pondered.  “What you just did was great.  Maybe if every time I get a craving, you could eat a chip for me?”

“We could try that,” Sally said.  “I don’t mind chips.  And I don’t think I’m going to develop an addiction to them.  Maybe it will help you detox?  Do you need to detox from chips?”

“I don’t know?” Nat said with excitement.  “I can’t remember a time not eating them.  Hey, maybe I can do the same for you!  What are you addicted to?  Every time you get a craving I’ll do it for you.”

“I’m an alcoholic,” Sally said.

“Fantastic,” Nat replied.  “I’m not and I don’t mind beer at all.  It goes great with chips!”

“That it does,” Sally said.  “That it does.”

It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.  Sally never had a drink again.  Nat never ate another chip.  With the crispy crunch of each chip and the long swig of each beer, the words, “”I love you” rang loud and true in Baltimore.

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