July 1991. Flushing, New York.
I was roused awake by a hammering at the door. I jumped up, and quickly fell backward onto the couch. The clock in the corner flashed 9:21.
I stood again, took three steps across the room, and opened the door to find a mountain of a man in the doorway.
“Jimmy!” the man said, pushing open the door and walking inside. “Howa you doin’ this morning Jimmy?” It was Jack, my sponsor from Alcoholics Anonymous. At 6’ 10” Jack, an Irishman, was well known in the Queens AA community for taking the most hopeless cases under his wing.
Sunlight rushed in as Jack opened the blinds of the basement room that I currently called home. “So you had yourself a good night last night I see?” he said, standing over a pile of empty beer cans in the corner of the room.
I lit a cigarette. “You’re early.”
“Not early enough. I guess I should have stayed here all night after dropping you off,” Jack said referencing the night before when we attended an AA meeting together. He dropped me off well after 10 pm and I assured him that I was going to read, write, and go right to bed.
But then something happened. As it always seemed to do when left alone with my inner demons.
I started thinking about a failed relationship with a girl who recently loved me, but who left me for someone else. And I was helpless to do anything about it–except plot to get her back. And plotting on something as hopeless as love lost meant drinking. And so I did. Until I passed out.
I had been sober 10 days. Things were going well. Not great, mind you, but well. My head was clearing even though I was mostly unhappy, but for a few glimpses of light.
And I was completely alone in the world, but for Jack.
“Jimmy, what the fuck are we going to do with you?” Jack asked as he whipped open and straddled a metal chair directly in front of me.
I was too ashamed to speak. Here was this man who had taken me on as some kind of pet project to help me get my life together, and I was letting him down. Just like I’d let everyone else down who I’d known in my life. I knew I would never stop drinking. I should just come out and tell him that he was wasting his time.
“Seriously. I’m asking you. What are we going to do with you?”
“I don’t know. Go to a meeting, I guess,” I managed to say as I put out my cigarette.
“Then let’s go,” he commanded as he jumped up.
I started to walk to the bathroom.
“No, no, let’s go like this,” he said. “There’s a meeting a few blocks from here that starts in ten minutes.”
“Fuck that. I’m not going there to make a fool out of myself all hung over,” I said to the large man standing in my way.
He smiled sarcastically. “Really? You don’t think they’ll know what happened if you take a shower in cologne?”
I didn’t respond, and instead walked around him toward the bathroom.
“That’s funny, Jimmy,” he said. “Really funny. You know why it’s funny? It’s funny because it doesn’t matter. Today is a new day.”
I shut the door and ran water. I could hear Jack cleaning up the beer cans in the next room. I looked in the mirror. My eyes were swollen and red.
“Oh Jimmy.” Jack said from the other side of the paper-thin wall. “Oh Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.” He paused. “We’ll get you right, yet.”
I had one more relapse a week later before eventually having an epiphany that would change my life forever.
Thank you, Jack.