The Ninth Stepbythecelt©
There are twelve steps in the recovery program for alcoholism originated by Alcoholics Anonymous beginning with Step 1: Honesty and ending with Step 12: Service. This program is the spiritual foundation for personal recovery for those who enter. The parts of this program that can sometimes be controversial are the eighth and ninth steps. The eighth step is writing down the names of those hurt during the period of alcoholism, while the ninth step is making amends. The TV show 'My Name is Earl' is based on number 9. This story is my look at the same step.
The Ninth Step-Making Amends
I entered the bar called Jesse's and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark. What I saw was a typical bar: tables and booths flanking a long bar with chrome and plastic stools, now mostly empty. I saw a booth toward the back and walked over to it. When the waitress came over, I told her I was waiting for someone but to bring me a Black Label while I waited. I didn't drink often but I thought 'when in Rome. .' The waitress returned with my beer, sat it down in front of me and then moved away, bored. As I nursed my beer, I saw the door open again, admitting a burst of sunlight and then saw Jerry. Jerry Geiger. I hadn't seen him in a year but I recognized him immediately. Big guy, almost 6' 5" and probably didn't weigh more than 150. He had sandy hair, cropped short and a mouth almost too big for his face. Dark eyes, small nose and a smile that showed a million teeth, all white as rice. As I watched him approach the table, I wondered again about the phone call that brought me here.
Jerry and I had been friends since high school. It was sort of strange, the two of us. We were physically so different. He was tall and skinny while I was shorter, maybe 6' even and stocky, built like a tank. I was a top jock, captain of the football team when Jerry was the equipment manager. I was in the top of my class where Jerry just barely passed. I had my pick of the girls in the school while Jerry had to settle for the class whore and even she wasn't sure she wanted anyone else to know she had gone out with him. The two of us were direct opposites in almost everything, but somehow we became friends. And we were good friends. We went everywhere together, did everything together and spent most of our time together. So, it wasn't strange that when I went into the service, Jerry followed me. We completed basic together, entered weapons training together and were sent to South Korea together where we served 12 easy months. When we came back to the states, we were finally separated. Jerry went to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and I went to a joint forces training base in Los Alamitos, California. We finished our terms and returned home to Cleveland where we separated again, me to enter college while Jerry went into business with his dad.
We stayed in contact over the years and finally came together again when I took a job with an advertising company in Shaker Heights, close to where Jerry's dad had his business. He had a construction company and Jerry was a foreman. We got together and stayed close friends, spending most of our spare time together. That was until I met Janet Carl. I fell madly in love and she began to take over my time completely. Jerry and Janet didn't seem to get along very well, mainly because of Jerry, so naturally we started to drift apart. But when I proposed, and Janet accepted, Jerry was the one I asked to be my best man. Janet was OK with it because she knew how I felt about Jerry, so he and Janet agreed to a truce until after the wedding. Once we were married, my time with Jerry dried up and eventually stopped completely.
Janet and I bought a nice home in Brecksville with our combined salaries. Janet worked as an add copywriter in my company and I was in sales. I had to travel a lot but it was usually day trips only so I was hardly ever away for more than a day or two. That gave us time to get settled in our new home and to find ways to merge our time. We worked out a nice little schedule that suited us perfectly and we settled down as a typical married couple. Good sex was a big part of it. Janet and I were very compatible in the bedroom, experimentation being one of the things we liked to do. She would hear one of her girlfriends talking about something so we had to try it. I would read something or hear something and suggest it. She was always game. I was pleasantly surprised to find she had no reservations where sex was concerned. We found a lot to things to do that we both enjoyed.
The only bad time was a period about two years ago when I was asked to lock in a contract with a Japanese company. They were a big account and we wanted to take over their US advertising completely. I had to travel to Japan on several occasions and I was gone for two or three weeks each time. Janet hated that and we fought a lot about it, but she knew that it was a temporary thing and if I could lock it in, it meant a nice bonus and points toward a promotion later. It was rough and we fought a lot but we endured and got through it.
The only thing we disagreed on was kids. I wanted kids and Janet did too, but she wanted to wait for a few years. She said we had too many things to do together to limit ourselves now. I finally agreed so we postponed. We began to form friendships with other couples and Jerry sort of faded out of our circle of friends. I lost touch then and for more than a year I didn't hear from him. I almost forget about him until the phone call. It was from Jerry and was very simple and straightforward.
"Paul, it's Jerry. I know we haven't talked for some time but I need to see you. It's very important to me so I really need you to say you'll meet me."
"Sure Jerry. No problem. When and where buddy. Just say the word." I was interested and ready to help a buddy. No questions asked.
"Can you meet me at Jesse's over on Broad Street, near pop's office? Maybe after work tomorrow? OK?"
"Can do. I'll be there. Anything I should bring?"
"Just you. I'll see you then. And thanks Paul. Thanks a lot."
That was it. He hung up and now I was here. So, what was he up to and what did he need me for. Showtime! As we embraced, I noticed that he was thinner than ever. Seemed to have lost weight in the last year or so. He looked good though, so he wasn't sick. Or at least I hoped that he wasn't.
"Paul, I'm glad you agreed to meet me today. I don't know if you know I'm in recovery? I'm an alcoholic." He stood there, waiting for my reaction. As for me, I was not surprised that he was an alcoholic, but I was surprised that he was in recovery. Jerry had been drunk most of the time I knew him. I never thought he would ever stop drinking. But now that he had, I was delighted. I sat and waved him down as well.
"I didn't know, but I'm damned glad! Finally! Congratulations! How long has it been?" Damn, it was great!
"Five months, three days and twelve hours since my last drink. I'm in AA now and I did ninety days in rehab. I'm in the twelve step program. Have you heard of it?" He was smiling now as I gestured for him to go on.
"Vaguely. But what the hell. Whatever works for you. And I'll do anything I can to support you. You know that. So, what is it you need from me?" I was serious. Anything at all. This was Jerry, my great and good friend.
"When we get to step 8, we make a list of those we've offended or hurt by our actions due to drinking or booze in general. You were on the top of my list. Step 9 is making amends for my actions. That's why I'm here. To make amends." He was no longer smiling, but I wasn't sure why.
"Jerry, buddy! I can't think of any way you've screwed me over. We've had our differences over the years but there's nothing I can think of that you need to apologize to me for. So, whatever it is buddy, you're forgiven." I honestly couldn't think of a thing. Nothing! Honestly.
Jerry just looked at me, clearly not ready to forgive himself this way. He seemed upset and I watched as he gripped his hands together hard enough to make the knuckles white. The same with his face. It was twisted in pain. I was beginning to worry. What the hell had he done? I couldn't think of anything. Maybe he stole a few bucks? Hell! I had to get him to talk and get it out. Whatever it was, I could let it go.
"Jerry! Come on buddy! What the hell is it? You're starting to scare me now. Just say it and let's get it done with. I'm your friend. So, give!"
Jerry continued to fight with himself, but finally seemed to have resolved whatever it was that was twisting him up in those knots. He looked at me, swallowed and began.
"It was two years ago, when you were traveling so much, trying to lock up that contract with those guys in Japan. You know the ones. You were in Tokyo so much that I expected you to start talking Japanese. There were two or three times you were gone for at least two weeks at a time. Remember?" He was not looking at me now. He was staring at his clenched hands. I was beginning to wonder what he was going to say.
"Yeah, I remember. It was a bad time for me. Too much time away and it was hard on both me and Janet. We fought a lot and we almost broke up. How could I forget that time? It was a real bad deal all around." I did remember.
We were able to work it out, but it was a close call. Since then, our marriage had just grown stronger. We didn't talk much about that time. It was too painful for both of us. I had even moved out for a while before we went for counseling. But, what was Jerry getting at?
"OK, you remember. You know that Janet was very upset with you for having to spend so much time alone. She hated that. So, she called me one night and asked me to have dinner with her. I was surprised since she never liked me much, but I went. We went to Spencer's and had a really nice time. We talked a lot and found we had more in common than we thought. That was fun and we did it a couple of times more."
OK, so what? They got to know each other. Was there more? Now, I had a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I didn't think I wanted to hear any more. This was no longer funny. I thought it was time to stop this.
"Jerry, I appreciate your trying to make amends but I don't think I want to hear any more. Can we just stop this now and I forgive you? Whatever. If I don't hear any more, we can stay friends and forget this ever happened."
"Paul, if I can't do this, make a full confession, it doesn't count. It's no good for you to forgive me without knowing why. It's letting me off the hook too easy. I've got to do this now while I have the courage. Please, let me do this!"
I didn't want to go any further. I wanted this to stop right now! I pushed myself up from the booth and started to move around and leave. I didn't want to hear him say another word. I just wanted out! I had to get out!
Jerry stood when I did, but instead of doing as I asked and letting me go, he blurted it out. The son of bitch said the words I didn't want to hear, ever.
"Janet and I had an affair! We had an affair! I had sex with your wife! There! I did it!" He was leaning on the table with a look of satisfaction on his face. The son of a bitch was pleased with himself!
At least he didn't scream it out. But I heard it. Oh yes! I heard it loud and clear. Janet cheated on me with my best friend Jerry Geiger. My best friend was a son of a bitch and a fucking asshole!
"I had to tell you so I could make amends. It was just the one time. I have to tell you how sorry I am and that I regret that I ever did it. It was wrong and I'm so damn sorry. Now, you can forgive me. That's your part. You have to do it so I can make amends and go forward."
He straightened up with a look of expectation on his face. He wanted me to forgive him for fucking my wife. Can you beat that? He was standing there, waiting for me to say 'I forgive you'. Can you believe that shit? I could. Jerry was a lot of things but smart was never one of them. As a matter of fact, I always thought he was almost retarded, but hey, he was my friend and I had always looked out for him. Now?
"Well Jerry. What can I say? Seems like you feel a whole lot better now that you've confessed. What did Janet say when you told her you were going to tell me?"
"Oh, I didn't tell her. I knew she would try to stop me, so I didn't tell her. Actually, we haven't spoken since we stopped seeing each other. That's been a couple of years now."
"Well, she's going to be very surprised now, isn't she?" I was amazed how calm I was. My anger was so bottled up, it was like being in a pressure cooker. I had to do something to let off some steam and I had a good idea of what it was. So, I slid out from behind the booth and walked over to Jerry with my hand out. The dumb fucker thought I wanted to shake his hand.
"Great. Let's shake on it and let bygones be bygones." He stuck his hand out with a grin on his face.
I smiled back and then let him have it. I brought my fist from low against my side up and through a classical roundhouse, aimed right at his smile. Most roundhouses don't connect but this one did. I felt the contact from the end of my fist down through my arm and down to my feet. Damn! It was even better when I watched the light go out of his eyes as he stiffened before toppling like a rotten tree snapped by the wind. I swear he bounced when he hit the floor.
I looked down at the motionless body of the man I once thought of as my only true friend. He was out like a light. I resisted the urge to kick him in the balls. It was a really strong urge too, one I wanted so badly to give in to, but I was a gentleman.
"I'm sorry old buddy. I can't forgive you. And here's the tab. You can pay." I threw the bar bill down on his chest as I stepped over his prone body to walk slowly and calmly out the door.
I went directly to my car, parked toward the back of the lot. I sat down, laid my head down on the steering wheel and tried to think. My mind was in a whirl and my emotions badly scrambled. I had just been told that my wife, the love of my life and the one person in this whole damn world that I counted on to keep me grounded and sane, had cheated on me. She had fucked my best friend and never told me. She had betrayed my trust in her. It was almost to much to handle.
I decided I would do the intelligent thing. I would go and get drunk. I was outside a bar, but unfortunately, I had just decked the prick that made me want to get drunk so this bar was out. I needed another place, and I needed it now. I started the car and backed out just as my once best friend came out the door and looked around. He spotted me and began to run toward me but I floored the car and shot out of the lot and started down the street before he could reach me. In the rear view mirror, I watched him get smaller and smaller which I thought appropriate. He disappeared and I concentrated on finding a new watering hole.
About three blocks down the street, I spotted the 'Camel's Hump', a likely looking spot. I pulled around to the back and parked. Seemed like a few people were already here so I wandered in and found a nice table in the back. I slid in, held up my hand and a nice looking waitress came over. "What can I get for you good looking?" She laid down a napkin and waited, looking me over as she did. I returned the favor before answering.
"A Black Label and keep them coming. And run a tab if you will, whatever your name is."
"Name's May and I can run a tab only if you give me something up front. Like a twenty." She smiled down at me and I admired her and the rack she carried. She had a nice smile. Her rack wasn't bad either. I pulled my wallet, found a twenty and laid it down.
"Thanks May. My names Paul. You can call me cuckold Paul if you like. Or, how about Sucker. Yeah, sucker is good. That's me. Sucker Paul." Nothing like a little self pity to get things started. "Call me SP for short."
May left without responding and came back with a Black Label. She placed it down and leaned over to whisper in my ear. "Take it easy Paul. She can't be worth the pain you're going to feel if you get wasted. Take it from May. Just take it easy." She straightened and walked away. I watched, noting the sway of her hips from the rear. Nice view. I thought about what she said and then decided she was wrong. I had no desire to take it easy. I wanted to take it as far as I could without losing consciousness. Well, what the hell: why stay conscious? What did I have to go home to? A cheating wife?
I had my beer, and then a few more and then some more after that. May took good care of me and kept me in liquid memory eraser. Sometime later, when my memory was beginning to be a thing of the past, she finally sat down at my table and slid a cup of coffee in front of me.
"Drink this. You need to sober up before we close for the night. It's past two in the morning and sooner or later, someone is going to miss you. Know who that might be?"
I thought about it. I thought real hard but no one came to mind. I told May that there was no one I could think of and she laughed at me. "How about your wife? Think she might wonder where you are? Got a cell phone?"
Now there was a thought. Did I have a cell phone? Of course I had a cell phone. I had a very nice cell phone, one that took pictures and everything. I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out my cell. "Hah! Thought I didn't have a pell chone?" Funny, that didn't come out right. "What's this?" I held it up high in triumph.
May took it from me and pushed the power button. I heard it make a cute sound and then it began to ring. She handed it to me. "It was turned off, genius"
So it was. Who could be calling me at this hour? I stared at the phone but I couldn't focus on the caller ID. I told May, "I can't read the screen so I don't know who it is. What good is a phone if you can't tell who's calling?"
"Why don't you answer it genius. Then you'll know who it is." She seemed to be laughing at me but I had no idea why. It wasn't nice to laugh at someone with a handicap. I couldn't read the screen. That was a handicap. I finally decided that maybe I should answer it to see who it was that was calling me at this hour.
"Hello?" There! That wasn't so hard.
"Paul? Is that you? My god Paul, where are you and why didn't you call? I've been scared to death. It's after two in the morning."
It was Janet. How about that? It was my wife. How did May know it would be my wife? I asked her. "How did you know who it was? It's my wife, the cheater. It's Janet."
"Paul? Who are you talking to? Who's there? Where are you? Paul? Talk to me!"
"Hello? Is this Janet? The cheater?"
May took the phone from me and spoke into it. I couldn't hear most of what she said but it was something about me. I was pretty sure it was about me because she kept looking at me as she spoke. I lost interest though and decided to finish my beer. But there was no beer, only a cup of coffee. I drank that anyway. I considered asking May for another beer but I doubted she would give me one. She seemed to be done talking to my wife since she handed me back my phone. I listened to it for a second but decided Janet had hung up. Probably mad at me for some reason.
"May, I think I would like to have another Black Label. Maybe you could have one too, then we could both have one. One for the road, that's what I want. Yeah, just one more for the road." That reminded me of a song and I started to sing, 'One for my baby, and one more for the road.' "Come on May, sing with me. Oh, one for my. . ." Suddenly I didn't feel so good.
I got up and staggered toward where I thought the men's room was. I had a purpose now which gave me strength. I made it all the way into the john, found a nice cool stall where I sank to my knees and recited the lord's prayer as my insides came out through my mouth and nose. On the fifth repetition, my insides began to settle and my stomach unclenched. I suddenly felt the hard floor on my knees and the cold porcelain of the john on my cheek. The sweat was beginning to cool on my face and I was starting to shiver with the chill. I remained there, now just repeating a short litany of regret over and over.