|Photo Credit: MorgueFile by Sioda|
Today's post is a response to the GBE2 prompt: Strength.
"I could break that," the gentleman soon to be known as I-Could-Break-That Jim remarked, gesturing toward the aged wooden railing of a nearby staircase.
"That's great, Jim," said Elizabeth. "You must be very strong."
He nodded humbly. Jim, who was only twenty days out of a treatment facility, had volunteered to assist Elizabeth in putting on the sober dance to take place that evening. Their task of the moment: to buy decorations. They made their way from the packed parking lot to the party store, Elizabeth walking somewhat slowly in the humid chill of California winter, aware of the familiar sensation of migraine beginning to ripple through her head. It was important not to move too quickly.
Jim swaggered. Despite the chill, his sleeves were rolled up over biceps bulky and marked by acne and the tattoo of a shark, jaws open.
"We will need to get streamers, balloons, and confetti," noted Elizabeth as they arrived at the storefront of Party America.
"O.K.," Jim replied gamely. "How about I get the streamers? What colors do we want?"
"For New Year's? Maybe blue and black. Or black and silver. What do you think?"
"I expect you know better than I do," Jim conceded and tipped his cap. "I'll just get black and silver."
"That sounds good. Thanks, Jim. I'll meet you here to check out. We have to pay out of the group bank account."
"Yes, Ma'am," said Jim. "Do you need a cart?"
"Sure. Thanks, Jim, " said Elizabeth.
Jim wheeled a cart over to her and she began to push it in the other direction. The wheels stuck.
"Damn. This one's tweaked," she complained.
"I could break that," Jim replied.
After having gathered and purchased all the necessary adornments and payed with a check from the sober group's bank account which Elizabeth, its treasurer, carefully shepherded with the officious and dutiful quality of a mother cat, they stopped at a cafe for espresso.
"How long have you been sober?" Jim inquired over his shot-in-the dark, eyes full of vulnerable and envious curiosity.
"Six years now," Elizabeth explained.
"You're just a baby!" he uttered in disbelief. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I mean no disrespect. It's just that you're how old...?"
"I'm twenty-two," she laughed. "Old enough to respectably have a baby. Old enough to graduate college. Old enough to drink legally–were I to able to do so without ending up vomiting all over strange men in drainage tunnels. I got sober when I was sixteen. I went to the high school for kids with substance abuse issues."
"They have a high school for that? It sounds like a mini-series," Jim observed.
"It's just a high school. A high school filled with kids who go to meetings and have sponsors and, often, parole officers," she illuminated. "It was a good thing. I learned enough there to get to junior college anyway. And, more importantly, I stayed sober."
"You're very lucky," said Jim and straightened up in his chair, as if to display the war-won scars of his twenty years of active addiction. Elizabeth looked at him and saw a face marked with lines deeper than suggested by his thirty-six years, eyes reddened, skin vaguely yellowed. She saw a man half a boy still, kicking tree trunks to impress a pretty girl. Her migraine nipped at her consciousness but she ignored it. She sipped her latte and looked at Jim.
"I'm more than lucky," she said seriously. "I have worked hard. I go to six meetings a week. At those meetings, I make coffee, serve as treasurer and clean up cigarette butts. I sponsor three teenage girls. I pray every morning for God to relieve me of my desire to drink and every night I thank him that he has. I am lucky I didn't die out there or fry my brain or have a baby and ruin its life. I am lucky. But I am more than lucky. If you want to stay sober, you will be, too."
Jim sat in silence. For a moment, he looked at Elizabeth and his eyes were pools of sorrow–unmet hopes, dreams he dared not remember, memories he'd much rather forget. Her hope hurt. It hurt because he wanted it so badly. He looked away for a moment.
"See that table over there? I could break that."