With every stitch of her clothing saturated to the skin and every fiber of her being chilled to the bone by the driving and frigid January rain, Donna Mitchell's mind was comprised of only one thought: A stiff drink sure would be wonderful! Though it had been six months since Donna had her last drink of alcohol before joining AA, she could still taste the crisp and clean bite of an icy cold Budweiser sliding down her throat. Then chasing it with a shot of Tequila? Oh yeah, baby! God it would hit the spot right now. Just one beer and one shot, that's all! Nothing more! She could handle just one. But no, she couldn't. It wouldn't be just one. It could never be just one. As they say in the program: "One is too many, but a thousand is never enough." And unfortunately for Donna Mitchell, that statement fit her like a glove. If twenty years of alcoholic drinking and active drug abuse had convinced her of anything, it had surely convinced her of that. Or had it?
Actually it was really only the last year and a half that did the major convincing; and it had done it in the most destructive and painful of ways. In that seemingly short span of time, a mere eighteen months, everything of value in Donna's life had been lost; snatched out from under her like a rug from under her feet. Her career as a Registered Nurse: Fired! Her husband of 12 years: Divorced her! Her 2006 Dodge Ram 1500: Repossessed! Her home: Lost in the divorce! Her self- respect and dignity: Repeatedly defiled by desperate acts for money and drugs; even selling her body. The trust of family and friends: Gone; she had spent years stealing money, jewels and other valuables, completely manipulating and humiliating them in every conceivable fashion. Her clean criminal record: Arrested numerous times for driving while intoxicated, possession of illegal substances, assault and battery, public intoxication, embezzlement, bank draft fraud and prostitution. Her health: Kidney infections, bladder infections, upper respiratory infections, liver enlargement, high blood pressure, severe malnutrition, physical abuse and Hepatitis C.
But the most devastating loss of all: her two beloved children. Nine year old Nicholas and six year old Wendy were now in the full custody of their father and they had moved with him back to his hometown of Texarkana. Donna now had limited, court supervised visits with them one weekend a month in Texarkana. So, Donna would drive nearly 600 miles round trip along old U.S. Highway 59 through rural East Texas in a battered, war torn 1973 Chevy pick-up truck that she bought for 250 dollars from a guy in the program. The only thing holding that truck together was the paint and even it was falling off by the bucket load; rust was eating that grotesque old "hoopty" down to the frame - but it ran.
Having lived in a woman's shelter for the first 30 days of her sobriety, Donna's elderly parents reluctantly allowed their 36 year old juvenile delinquent to move into the one room loft over the garage of their home just outside of Houston. Now as she approached her seventh month of clean and sober life, Donna was still physically weak, frail, and easily susceptible to whatever bug was going around. But despite all her hardships, Donna loved and adored her children more than life itself and would do anything for them; even walk seven miles in a cold and bitter January rain along the shoulder of Highway 59 after her "hoopty" had finally decided to go to the big junkyard in the sky.
Though this trip back from Texarkana had been cold, gray and gloomy with a driving winter rain; in truth, it was no less miserable than any other. Even if there wasn't a cloud in the sky and the temperature was eighty degrees, Donna's heart always ached to the point of physical agony for she knew it would be another full month before she saw her babies again and another two weeks before she could speak to them by phone. She was allowed one mid month phone call and it was court ordered that the children must be available to speak to her. If an emergency arose on either side and the call could not be made or taken, alternate arrangements would then be made by the court to reset it. Donna hated every aspect of the situation. How could these people do this to her? She was their mother! She carried them in her body, she gave birth to them, she nursed them, fed them, bathed them, changed their diapers, wiped away their tears, loved them, treasured them. Who the hell did the state of Texas think they were to do this to her? The words of her AA sponsor suddenly thundered through her head:
"They didn't do this to you, Donna. You did it all to yourself."
Now, as Donna trudged down the southbound shoulder of Highway 59 in the seemingly perpetual darkness of a lonely winter night, Donna's heart ached as it always did. Despite the biting rain smacking her in the face and the gusty January winds chilling her to the soul, Donna hardly even noticed. Physical pain and outer discomfort had nothing on emotional trauma and inner turmoil. With her feet and legs aching from her near eight mile trek, her shoulder length black hair drenched to the scalp and the wind constantly blowing soggy locks in her eyes and mouth, Donna jammed her frail, shivering hands into the damp pockets of her soaking wet denim jacket and listened to her teeth chattering louder than the wheels of a train clattering along the rail. Finally rounding a wide bend that had seem to last forever in the intimidating darkness, Donna's eyes suddenly fell upon a most familiar and beautiful sight.
The golden arches of McDonald's had never been a more welcomed sight or ever looked more appetizing to Donna's exhausted and heavy blue eyes; though at the moment, she wasn't the least bit hungry. As the arches filled the night sky over the tiny town of Garrison, Texas with an almost heavenly ray of light, Donna managed a miniscule smile for the first time in what seemed like years. With what little remaining endurance she had, Donna picked up her pace and bolted across the street and into the fast food restaurant's parking lot; she had to get out of the rain. She only hoped and prayed that the place was still open; small towns anywhere in the United States had a tendency to roll up the sidewalks right after sunset, and that had been nearly two hours ago. And if Garrison, Texas was anything, it was a small town; one of many East Texas "shitholes", as her brother Zane referred to them, along old Highway 59. And based upon Donna's luck of late, the prospects of the place still being open were slim to none.
Feeling her last vestiges of strength fading, Donna trotted quickly across the parking lot, now suddenly very mindful of the driving rain smacking her in the face and leapt onto the sidewalk, finally coming to rest against the wall under the overhang of the building's roof. Giving herself a quick glance over and only imagining how dreadful she must look, Donna shook herself like a dog, slid back her saturated hair with her trembling hand and anxiously reached for the door handle, giving it a gentle pull: It opened. Perhaps her fortunes were turning at last. Stepping inside the world's most popular fast food chain restaurant, Donna was met by a welcomed blast of warm, dry air that literally engulfed her frozen and frail body. Donna stood nearly 5'10" and thanks to her years of drug and alcohol abuse, she was considerably underweight - almost lanky. Since she'd sobered up, she gained some weight back, but she was still weak, gawky and thinner that her doctor would like. Her skin was almost ghostly pale, smooth and surprisingly soft and despite being wiry, she had what most men would consider a very pleasing feminine figure with solid B-cup breasts, rail thin arms, skeletal hands and narrow, bony hips. Her face too was narrow with high cheeks, deeply embedded eyes and a nose that had been broken a time or two; but it had a mysterious allure to it and was just downright pretty despite being worn and haggard by her lifestyle. It also made her appear closer to forty-six than her actual age of thirty-six.
As she wiped her feet on the black floor mat, Donna surveyed the dining room; with the exception of a young teenage couple feeding each other French fries in the corner and two elderly men playing chess at a table on the opposite end, the place was otherwise deserted. It was then her nostrils filled with the delectable aroma of fresh hot fries, cooking burgers and hot apple pies. Donna's mouth watered as she suddenly realized that she was in fact very hungry after all. But, first things first; she needed to call her parents. Donna searched for a payphone; her pre-paid cell phone had long since expired. Spotting the payphone out of the corner of her eye just outside the restrooms, Donna moved toward it, smiling as she recollected that "First Things First" is one of AA's most popular slogans.
As Donna reached for the receiver, her hand balled tightly into a fist and her mind flooded with dread and doubt. Would her parent's even believe what had happened to her tonight? Would they even answer the phone if they didn't recognize the number on the caller ID? And if they did answer, would they even accept a collect call? Donna had put her parents through absolute hell in her disease; had called them for help, manipulated and lied to them more times than she could even fathom. Though she'd now been clean and sober for over six months, Donna knew that her parents were still extremely skittish and highly suspicious of her every move. Though they loved their daughter very much, they were devoutly religious people, strict disciplinarians and very skeptical about the facets and practices of Alcoholics Anonymous; they considered it a cult. How could a group of strangers, drunks and junkies, help their daughter where they and their church could not? Black magic her mother even called it at one point. Still, Donna had to let them know where she was and what she was doing. That was mandatory if she wanted to continue living in their garage loft. If she didn't call them now, Donna knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the locks would be changed and what few possessions she had left would be waiting for her on the curb when she finally got home. Donna lifted the receiver; it was dead.
"Shit!" She barked and slammed it back down.
Donna rubbed her hands over her face and weighed her options. She had only one. Donna turned and headed for the front counter. There was a rather scruffy looking young man, probably no better than sixteen behind the register. He studied Donna with wide eyes and incredulity all over his face. Donna briefly worried that given her current state of being she might be asked to leave. Now in a city like Houston, nobody would care about it, but these small towns were very different places.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" He asked.
"I hope so. I'm in kind of a jam. My truck broke down about ten miles outside of town and I've just walked all the way in. I'm on my way back to Houston and I need to let my family know what's going on. My cell phone died and your payphone is out of order, so I was wondering if I could use the store's phone to call home?" Donna explained.
"Oh, I don't know. We're not supposed to let anyone use ...." The young man said, but he was cut off.
"Here you go, ma'am!" A sweet yet strong female voice said from out of nowhere.
A cordless phone was suddenly thrust directly in front of Donna. Turning her head to see who had come to the rescue, Donna's eyes bulged slightly as she beheld an absolutely radiant young woman with a warm, glowing smile holding the cordless phone.
"Are you sure?" Donna asked. "It'll be a long distance call to Houston."
"Oh, I think McDonald's can afford it." The young woman said as her smile grew even bigger and brighter.
"Thank you so much." Donna said humbly.
"Don't mention it." The young woman replied as Donna took the phone.
Donna was dumbfounded for she felt the young woman's smile warming her very heart and soul. It was the most bizarre sensation she'd ever experienced. As the young woman sauntered off behind the counter to attend to the drive-thru window, Donna stared after her in star-struck awe and wonder.
"She has to be the loveliest girl I've ever seen." Donna thought to herself.
The young woman stood no more than 5'5" at the most with a statuesque, curvaceous figure that was clearly visible, wrapped in a snug pair of black slacks that divinely accentuated her savory, round hips and a bright red shirt that emphasized her bountiful chest with the golden arches emblazoned just above her left breast. Her skin was a gorgeous complexion of peaches and cream, her arms were long and willowy with sensual, sexy hands, long fingers, clear-polished fingernails and her face radiated an equal mix of angelic innocence and goddess-like beauty. With a black ball cap, also emblazoned with the golden arches on her head, long locks of glowing golden blonde hair dangled out from underneath it, beautifully cupping and framing her gorgeous face. Donna placed the girl to be in her early twenties at the most and soon found she was gawking at the girl like a homesick puppy.
"What the hell am I doing?" Donna thought to herself. "Okay, she's beautiful, but she's not that beautiful. What are you? Turning lesbo?"
Donna dialed her parent's number and her father answered on about the third ring. Donna explained her situation while her father listened with faint hints of skepticism and suspicion in his overall manner and periodic sighs; Donna knew his "bullshit" detector was on its highest setting tonight. When Donna finished her story, her father sighed deeply and there was an interminably long pause. Finally he spoke:
"Donna, you know I love you. But I have to confess that I'm having a real hard time believing you." He said sternly.
"I figured as much." Donna answered weakly.
"I'm afraid you're gonna have to get yourself out of this one." He stated matter-of-factly.
"But Daddy, I'm broke." Donna replied.
"Well, that's not really my problem. You're a grown woman Donna, and it's time you start acting like one." He stated coldly.
"But this wasn't my fault. I'm not drunk! I'm not high." Donna shot back.
"Then you should be perfectly capable of getting yourself out of it." He replied.
Donna knew in her heart that any further discussion or argument on her part was useless. She was on her own.
"Okay, fine." Donna said coldly. "Look, I promised I'd call you and I did."
"And we appreciate that." He told her.
"So am I still gonna have a place to live when I get back?" Donna asked.
"Well, you say you're not drunk or high. And I have no rock solid evidence either way. You sound sober; but then again, you're a highly skilled and seasoned BS artist. So, I guess we'll just have to see." Her father replied almost casually.
"Thank you, Dad." Donna replied.
"You're welcome. Good night, Donna." He said calmly and the line went dead.
Donna could feel the rage building inside her like magma rising up the cone of a volcanic crater. How could her parent's leave her stranded like this with no money, no resources, soaking wet, cold and alone? As her anger surged to a seething boil just below her skin, the immortal words of her fucking bitch of an AA sponsor once again echoed through her mind:
"They're not doing anything to you, Donna. You did this all to yourself."
Donna immediately wanted to argue and claim that this situation was entirely different, but the fact of the matter was, it all went back to her years of lying, cheating, stealing and manipulating. Though the circumstances tonight were not the result of her current behavior, Donna was still Donna's problem. People still didn't trust her; especially her parents and that trust would take a long time to rebuild; if ever. Donna's anger faded but was immediately replaced by overwhelming sadness, guilt and deep regret. Her throat was suddenly tight, filled with an enormous lump and tears were welling up behind her eyes. She set the cordless phone down on the counter and looked at the young man.
"Thank you." Donna said in a cracking voice.
"Can I get you anything?" He asked dutifully.
Donna fished out her wallet and found it empty. She had spent her last dollars over the weekend with the kids. Her credit cards were all now completely useless; she didn't even know why she still carried them. Donna searched her pockets and finally pulled out a handful of change adding up to less than a dollar-fifty.
"Could I just have a small coffee, please?" She said softly.
Donna counted out the correct change, paid for the coffee and took it over to a booth by the window. With her stomach rumbling and her nostrils filled with the delightful aroma of cooking food, Donna slid her soaking wet body down into the booth and stared aimlessly out into the cold, dark, rainy night. She had absolutely no idea what she was going to do. She never felt more utterly alone in the world. Her mind briefly filled with visions of her precious little boy and girl, but that brought her no comfort; she missed them so much it physically hurt. They were her everything and she had lost them. As she sank further into depression, morbid thoughts flooded her mind and tears flooded her eyes; her heart was shattered, her body was broken and her spirit was crushed. Overwhelmed with sorrow, unholy terror and an impending sense of ultimate doom, Donna dropped her now very heavy head down onto her arms on the table and sobbed piteously.
"God! Please help me." She whispered through her inconsolable sobbing.
With her face buried in the soaking wet sleeves of her denim jacket, Donna soon sensed movement beside her and then heard the faint tap of a serving tray on her table. Slowly lifting her head, Donna nostrils again filled with the wondrous aroma of fresh fries and hot apple pie and she found herself staring down at a double quarter pounder with cheese, a super-sized order of steaming hot fries, a super-sized beverage and a fresh apple pie on a tray directly in front of her. Donna's heart was ramming furiously against the inside of her chest as her head reflexively turned to the side to find the beautiful young woman who'd so graciously let her use the telephone standing beside the booth and smiling sweetly down at her. Donna stared up at her with utter bewilderment.
"You look like you could use something to eat." She said compassionately.
"I...I don't have any money." Donna stammered.
"I know. But just like with the phone call; with billions and billions served, I think McDonald's can afford to buy a woman dinner." The young woman said.
Donna was speechless. She searched the young woman's face and found nothing there but selfless compassion and genuine concern for a fellow human being. Donna felt warmth fill her heart unlike anything she'd ever known. Was this what the people in AA meant when they talked about unconditional love for your fellows?
Tears streamed down Donna's cheeks and her throat ached from the tightness of all the emotions raging through her.
"Thank you." She managed to spit out through her veil of tears.
"It's my pleasure." The young woman said; her beautiful, compassionate smile never faltering.
The young woman went about her duties as Donna dove into her meal, devouring it like a famished lion. Though she had eaten McDonald's thousands of times in her life, she couldn't remember a time when it tasted so wonderful. True, she was starving, but somehow, it was more than that. As Donna swallowed the last bite of her scrumptious hot apple pie and washed it down with a deep swig of ice cold Coca-Cola, the young woman returned with her ever present radiant smile filling her beautiful face.
"Feel better?" She asked sweetly.
"Oh, you have no idea." Donna replied.