He held the plastic chip in his hand and closed his fist around it; securing it. He held it like a safety bar in those crazy amusement park rides and turned towards the group of people sitting in front of him.Some of the people he had come to know with time, some were new. Each one of them had smiling faces and hopeful eyes. If you looked closely you could see traces of damage; some washed away, some washing away, some still clinging.
He mumbled his thank yous all the while searching for a particular face. Then he saw her entering from the door at the far end of the wall. She made her way to a seat in the last row and raised two thumbs-up to him, a big smile adorning her face, a little too big.
She didn’t know this but her face betrayed her most of the time. She didn’t know this but he could notice it most of the time.
He smiled back and was relieved to see the face he wanted to see on this day.
“Nola, Thanks for coming”, He said, coming towards her.
“I’m sorry I got late. My shift was till six at the coffee-house, I rushed here as soon as I got free. Congratulations!” she said and hugged him. “I’m so happy for you.”
“It’s okay. I am just happy that you are here.”
Nola smiled the big smile again.
“So, what do you want to do? Three months without drugs! Today we can get high on cheese, grease and restaurant germs. It is such a better high. Trust me!”, She laughed as they walked towards the parking lot.
“How about lasagne from your favorite place and then Ice cream?”
“Yes! No! It’s your day. Your victory. We should go to your favorite place.”
“It’s our victory”, he said putting an arm around her shoulders, “Besides it’s a win-win. Lasagne from your favorite place and Ice cream from mine.”
“Great! But I won’t give you my wafer.” She pointed a finger at him making sure she was heard.
“Yeah Yeah we’ll see”, he rolled his eyes as they both sat in the car.
He rolled the car out of the parking lot and saw Noah waving at him from his own car. Noah had become a friend over the past three months in the support group.
“Small victories”, Noah said making a victory sign.
“Small victories”, Alan waved back and drove towards the restaurant for their celebration of two.
Small victories they were indeed. Tiny steps. Each step taking them closer to healing. The journey was difficult but he was glad to have his best friend beside him. Nola was his driving force, his strength, his beautifully disturbed person. It’s been two years to the night when they stumbled upon each other. They were both running from their ghosts and somewhere along the way they had smacked into each other.
He was so grateful for that one second of honest confession. That one moment in which he took off his mask and showed his damage.Maybe it was because he saw a person in front of him struggling; fighting, wearing her own wounds on her.
“I have a bad past too”
In that instant, he had seen the wounds transform into an armor. He had seen past the fear in her eyes. He had seen empathy.
“You wanna take a walk”, she had said pointing towards the other side, away from the building.
After a long time, he had taken a step forward without thinking anything. Without thinking if he had closed the front door of his house properly or that it was probably going to rain again.
After a long time, he felt okay to just take a walk with this stranger.
“This is heavenly !”, Nola said taking another bite of the beef lasagna in front of her.
“Don’t get too high. I don’t want to take you to a meeting. One person doing this is enough.”, he said taking a sip from his drink.
She simply laughed and continued devouring her meal.
“So, did you paint something new?”, Alan asked.
“I’m out of black and red and I also need new brushes.Plus I’m picking up extra shifts at the coffee-house. I’ve been busy.”
“No, you can’t.”, she cut him mid-sentence.
“I didn’t even complete my sentence!”, he protested.
“But you were gonna say that, weren’t you?”
“Alan! you are not buying me art supplies.”, she pointed her fork towards him.
“We have had this conversation before. I don’t want your help. I’ll buy them myself when I have enough money.”
“You do realize I have a lot of money just sitting in the banks. It would be a gift..”
“Okay okay”, he lifted his hand in surrender.
“Good”, she said and took a fry from his plate.
“Oh! so you can’t take my money but you can steal my fries!”
“Yes”, she said and they both started laughing.
“How are you ? “, she sighed after laughing too hard and looked at him with meaningful eyes.
“I’m good”, he said and looked down towards his plate toying with the stray bits of beef.
“And?”, she asked.
“And afraid”, he lifted his eyes, now clouded with doubt.
She didn’t say anything just gave him time to say more.
“This has happened before. I have gotten sobriety chips before. Thirty days. Sixty days. “, he sighed.” I don’t trust myself, Nola. I’ll relapse. Hell, you know it. It has happened in front of you too! I’m afraid something will happen and I will lose control again.”
“Yes, this has happened but you have never come as far as three months before. That’s big.”
“That’s what makes it even more scary.”
“Look I know you are afraid. You and I, we are always afraid. But we can’t stop moving forward. We have done three months, we’ll do six months and so on and so forth. We will do this”, she nodded, “Okay, we’ll do this because we want to do this. We want to get better.”
“Yeah”, she smiled.”If you promise to take me out for lasagne every time you get a chip. I’ll make sure you never go down that road again”, She joked and finished the last bite.
“It’s a deal”, he smiled.
“Can we go for the Ice cream now? Before we get too scared.”
“Let’s not get that scared”, he laughed and signaled the waiter to bring the bill.