He was sitting alone at a table for four, hunched over a cup of coffee. It had been a good three months since I'd seen Bill.
"Don't even bother to ask," he mumbled. "Things are rotten."
"That bad, huh?" My attempt at humor failed. "She's drinking again?"
Bill nodded. In the past he had confided that his wife had a drinking problem. He had I thought found support by attending meetings of Al-Anon, an organization for family and friends of those with any addiction. And, last time we'd spoken, Kathryn was attending AA and life once again appeared rosy for two of my favorite friends.
"Call me a fool, Susan," Bill began. "I've kicked myself so often for being such a dreamer. You'd think me of all people would know better." He hesitated. "Thing was it was great when she stopped drinking. The meetings invigorated her and life seemed so good perhaps even better than before."
We both jumped as a glass slipped from the tray the waitress was carrying.
"That's us," he smiled sadly. "Our life was shattered just like that."
Is she going at all now, I asked. He shook his head no. Was he still attending Al-Anon?
"Oh, Susan, I can't tell you how lost I would have been so many times and probably even now had it not been for that marvelous organization. There I have the support of people who understand.
"I was pretty close to rock bottom," he continued, "after Kathryn's lapse. I think it's even worse when you find reason to hope and then have that dashed as well.
"Kathryn stopped her meetings when she began to drink again. You know, she insists she isn't an alcoholic. Says she doesn't have a problem. I'm the one so she says with the problem." He scoffed. "I tell that to the group and get a whole series of knowing smiles.
"It all comes back to the three Cs." Seeing my quizzical look, Bill quickly continued, "Yes. I didn't cause it. I can't control it and I can't cure it."
That's pretty severe, I thought.
"May I tell you something I haven't told anyone outside the group?" He leaned closer. "I stopped by the house the other day to pick up something oh, didn't you know I'd moved out? I simply could not go on living with her. She would grow so terribly abusive when she drank. I honestly believed it was to be 'for worse,' for life, until one of my co-workers commented how much I'd changed. You know, I had. And I realized then that staying in the sad situation was wrecking my life, too. That's when I accepted the advice and sought out Al-Anon.
"As I said, I stopped at the house the other day. We'd lived there over 30 years and ... well, as you can imagine every shelf, every wall, every room screamed of the happiness we'd shared. The children. Pets. Various vacations. So very much and so much of it good. No, great," he stressed.
"I turned around and walked out, more angry at that moment than I think I've ever been in my life. Angry that she could allow this to happen. I had truly believed we had it all.
"Yes, I know," he went on. "It's not a voluntary decision. We're taught to see alcoholism as a disease. I have a hard time with that concept until I realize she has no control over it."
We talked on at some length until I finally asked what he saw in his future.
" 'What comes next?' I really don't know. I have a decent apartment, good job, some friends who seem to understand and of course the group. You know, some of the people there have been going for years. I'd thought at the beginning it would get stale, the same old things over and over. Every so often somebody new joins but, really, the stories don't vary all that much though it is heartening to see some members begin to heal over time. More at least for me I'm now finding I'm learning something new about me! at every session.
"We talk about the alcoholic in our life of course. But much can just as easily be applied to other situations."
He checked his watch. "Come on, kid. Let's get out of here. I'll walk you to the door."
"Pain they say is inevitable but suffering is optional."
Susan Crossett is a Cassadaga resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org