There are eight million artist stories in the city. This one is mine. This one is called “One Friday Night”.
In Massachusetts liquor stores are referred to as package stores. Or, more lovingly, “Packies”. Keep that it mind.
Do you believe in God? Are you a practicing Buddhist? A Zen master? Do you believe in The Goddess? Or Yaweh? Or The Great Spirit, or simply The Universe, that doorknob over there, or the light bulb glowing in the kitchen? Something? I didn’t really believe in any of these things. Growing up we were raised in the Protestant faith, but other than a pretty cool Christmas early morning service, the only thing I really cared about in church was singing in the junior choir, and the girls singing in the junior choir. At 35, in 1984, this was the extent of my belief. Singing.
Back in the summer of ’84 my mentor Dick M. from Somerville suggested that I join a new group meeting to discuss in depth better ways to live after alcohol and drug abuse. He suggested by saying “You will do this!” So, being accommodating and all, I started attending a Friday night 8 – 9:30 p.m. group meeting at a union hall on Sullivan Square in Charlestown, Massachusetts. I’d been going there every Friday for about four months – with no distinct outside evidence that my life was getting better, still on occasion clinging to the unfairness of it all – when I found myself on the sidewalk hanging out with some people after the meeting. This one said this and that one said that and I wasn’t much interested in this or that, and after 45 minutes or so walked back to my car under the “T” tracks and drove back up Broadway to Somerville and my apartment. I lived on the third floor of a three-floor house, the landlords family on the two floors below, and the only way to get to my apartment was by climbing wooden steps on the outside back of the house. So I got home, parked my car facing the back of Somerville High School, and climbed the stairs. I put the key in the lock, turned it, opened the door and reached for the light switch, and just before I flipped it on I heard someone say: “There’s only 15 minutes before the packies close.” Just like that.
The light came on and a quick check proved there was no one there, but I knew what I had heard, in a voice loud and clear, and without really giving it a nanoseconds thought, a little more than 18 months sober, I turned around back out the door – because there were only 15 minutes. And then the phone rang.
I swear my first thought was to ignore it and keep going. But something made me stop and grab the phone from it’s hanging place on the kitchen wall and say “hello” and listen as one of the women who had been on the sidewalk after the meeting said she called because I didn’t seem so all right and wasn’t my usual chipper self and she wanted to know if I was okay. And I glanced at the clock – tick tick tick – and said I was fine, and busy, and thanks for calling, but that wasn’t good enough because she wasn’t convinced. And she kept talking and asking questions, and I kept standing there with the phone up to my ear, and when she said she felt better and said goodnight and hung up I glanced at the clock and it was 11:02 p.m. The packies had closed.
So I didn’t go to drink and the next day I woke up and didn’t feel like going to drink, and now it’s been about 10, 695 more days or so that I haven’t had a drink, even on the two or three that I really felt like it.
That woman who called didn’t bring it up to me again. She wasn’t anyone I was particularly close with anyway. Maybe it wasn’t even her who called. Maybe it was Yahwey in disguise, or The Buddha. Maybe it was Chief Seattle. Or Joan Jett. It doesn’t really matter. The packies closed and I was otherwise occupied.
During my 36th year on the planet, away from a bad-for-me substance for 18 months, I was in fact getting on my knees and asking for help, but without any real oompth, not really believing, more like going to sing so I could look at girls. This morning, 10,000 or so days later, I spent quite a while on my knees running off a litany of things for which I am ever grateful. Beyond asking, now thanking.
I started believing in something. One Friday night.