Twelve faces urge me to make a change. A mother’s tears, my father’s letter. Brave children who love me with devotion. They’re right and I know it, but I scowl in defiance. I have control or at least I used to. Now it seems the control controls me. A barrier is breaking. My wife, so tender, takes my hand and kisses me. There is pain in her eyes and forgiveness in her heart. She wants to be strong, but I can see she has been so for too long and is crumbling. And then he says, “Daddy?” and maybe for the first time I hear him.
Twelve tears collide with the bottle in my lap and his tiny hand pulls it away. The barrier has turned rubble. My neck is hot, sweat gathers on my nose and it drips. There is shame somewhere deep that is rumbling upward with vigor and with it the boiling waters of guilt. I shake out the tears. I bring him into my chest and I hold him. He releases the bottle and hugs me right back. “I love you, daddy.” He tells me.
Twelve miles between me and group and the eyes who watch me enter. Anonymous is a fallacy, they all know why I’m there. A community so watchful as a man enters a church at just the right time and just the right place. They haven’t seen me before, I’m not part of their Sunday parish, and so they watch. Their eyes burning into the back of my jacket; a gauntlet of judgement.
Twelve steps from the car to the church doors. Heavy and wooden, cast iron laden. They creak when they open. An informal announcement. Bodies gathered in a circle don’t shift to greet me so I stand in the shadows holding onto his picture. There is an empty chair waiting for me I need only to claim it and yet, like molten lead, my shoes have been welded to the ground.
Twelve thoughts of doubt crowding in my mind. Pride lingers the hallways a bully to courage and fear guides them. But the people are sitting there waiting and the chair it waits for me, too. So I remember his face and I take a deep breath. For him it is worth it. To be the father he deserves and the man they all need. And I take in more air to puff up my chest. Pride can find victory in conquering itself. The seat is cold and the floor nondescript. A hand pats my shoulder and the meeting begins.
Twelve members to hear my story. And not a trace of disappointment among them. My chest is constricted, my breathing not normal. I push on through the bad parts, those I can remember, and I know they can hear me. The waver in my voice as I recount what brought me there and with each word a weight lifted and each nod an acceptance.
Twelve minutes at a time. I take it all in twelve minutes at a time. For him I can do it. For her I must. One day I’ll remember to do it for me, but all journeys need maps to keep your path straight. And for now they are mine.
Twelve steps in a program that maybe I can subscribe to. Twelve breaths a reminder of the people who love me. Twelve heart beats bring life back into this body. Twelve apologies I owe. Twelve mistakes that I’ve made. Twelve lessons to come.
Twelve hours sober; twelve more to go.