The story below is true. Except I changed the names. And pretty much every other single detail. Mostly. So it’s fiction. Except its true.
I arrived early.
A few people were already there, setting up. There was a long table with industrial size coffee pots, carafes of ice water, and a big cake.
Usually the cake is in a recognizable Publix bakery box. Not this one. This one was homemade. Wtf? Who does that?
A nice lady approached and introduced herself to me.
“Can I help set up?” I asked.
“Oh no, we’ve got it” she said. “Help yourself to coffee & cake. Are you nervous about speaking?” She asked.
“No” I replied. The truth.
I was nervous though. I was nervous about that freaking cake. I’d been looking forward to it all day. I skipped dinner in anticipation. I had not expected a homemade cake in a 1970 something Tupperware contraption thingie.
I stepped forward for a closer look. It looked good. Beautiful really, except for the 1970 something Tupperware contraption thingie. The cake was big and white and fluffy. It had coconut flakes and Cherrys on top. It looked divine, really.
People were filing in. The chairs were filing up. I had to act quick. I needed to know who made that freaking cake. I mingled.
Hi, I’m Jeanne. So nice to meet you. Where are you from? The cake is gorgeous. Do you know who made it?
Hi, I’m Jeanne. I love your boots.What a pretty cake! Did you bring it?
Hi, I’m Jeanne. You look familiar. Oh yes, me too. That cake looks fabulous. I wonder who made it.
Maria made the cake! She always makes it. Hip hip hooray. I made my way over to Maria. I needed more info.
Ok listen, I’m not proud of my behavior. I’ve got issues, I know. But I can’t enjoy the freakin cake until I know. I’ve got to know if she’s got a house full of spoon licking, snot dripping toddlers. Or cats. A house full of litter digging, counter climbing cats. Among other things. I need to know. I want some cake.
For the record – I love toddlers, cats, dogs, all that jazz. Still, I need to know.
As I chatted with Maria, I casually extracted as much intel as I could. She’s a Jersey girl. Good. Her kids are seventeen and twenty. Wow, same as mine! No grands. No dogs. She’s allergic to cats. Yay!!
Don’t ask. I have a way. I coulda been a private eye. I coulda been a lot of things. But that’s another story.
Maria’s great. Certain the cake was safe, I asked her to point me toward the ladies room so I could freshen my makeup and wash my hands.
“Follow me” she said. “I’m going that way.”
Hoy crap, bonus!!
Maria used the bathroom while I hung around the sink area washing up. I ran the water extra strong to give her some privacy. I know, right. What a guy (girl).!
I took my time removing makeup as I made a mental note to replace the dead lightbulbs in our bathroom at home. I looked like Phyllis Diller. Good thing nobody was sizing me up. Right?
Maria emerged from the stall and proceeded to wash her hands with the proficiency of Merideth on Grey’s anatomy. Next, wait for it……she dried her hands with a clean paper tower and used the paper towel to hold the handle of the bathroom door as we exited!!!
I practically knocked my new best friend over as I plowed past her to claim a giant slice of her Jersey girl homemade masterpiece. I devoured the sweet creamy goodness without a minute to spare before being introduced as one of our two speakers.
Two? Wtf? Who said? I thought it was all about me. Me,me,me.
The other guy. we’ll call him Joe Schmoe. He was old. He was wearing wranglers and a huge belt buckle. He had gray hair and long sideburns. His boots, I’m pretty sure, were snakeskin. Whatever. I thought, I guess he hasn’t been sober long enough to know it’s 2015.
“Lady’s first” he gestured to me.
“Thank you” I said
Dirty rat. Thinks I’m going to be his warm up act. Ha, I’ll show him!
Listen, I didn’t really do & think all these things. What kinda person do ya think I am? Really. I’m making it all up for the sake of a good story. Embellishing. Mostly.
So I stepped up to the podium and let the words flow. I didn’t plan what to say. I just said what I said. I talked about how drinking had always been a part of my life. It was normal. Everybody drank. I have fond memories. A lot of em. I talked about how eventually, the good times were fewer and further between. How I just knew that, because of how I felt, I could not go on like that anymore. I talked about how I quit. I talked about how I could not have done it alone. And how grateful I was to have found a new way of life. I talked about how I only wish that I had tried sobriety a long, long time ago. I talked about how much better my life is without the booze. I told them that quitting booze was the single best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I told them that sobriety does not suck. I told them the effing truth.
Bam. Top that Joe Schmoe.
He was born in 1935. He’s 80 years old. He’s been sober, he said, since March of 1962.
Wait, what? Thats 53 years. Joe Schmoe, I mean Joe, was 27 years old when he gave up booze? That’s incredible!
Even by today’s standards, with all the awareness, it’s the lucky few who discover and stick with sobriety at twenty something. To chart your course in one direction while all of your friends going in another, it takes a strength of character and perseverance not typically associated with youth. Wow!
Joe had my full attention.
He told us how he got so lucky. He told us that he distinctly remembered being thirteen years old. He remembered one uncle who drank a lot and then gave it up. He remembered that uncle was happy. He remembered that uncle attributed his happiness to sobriety. And so Joe, at twenty something, knew there was another way. When his own drinking frightened him, he knew there was a way out.
He went on to tell us how beautiful his life has been for the past 53 years. Education, adventure, success, love. Thanks to sobriety, Joe had all of that. He hadn’t thought about drinking in decades. It wasn’t even a thing anymore. He spoke about gratitude and the power of living one day at a time, a skill he’d picked up in sobriety. He radiated humility, confidence, compassion, love, peace, faith and happiness. I fell in love with Joe as he spoke. A little bit.sort of.
In closing, Joe told us that he was diagnosed with a inoperable brain tumor just a few days ago. Collectively, we swallowed a big lump and fought back tears. Not Joe.
“I’m dying” said Joe ,with a genuine smile. “But I’m not dying today.”
Afterwards, I hugged Joe. I told him he’d inspired me. It was the real truth.
I mingled. Sort of. Not really. Then I left.
As I was walking to my car a lady caught up to me. She was thirty something. Pretty. Well kept. She was wearing a purple shirt. She told me she’s been sober for 27 days. We hugged and she whispered some crap about having been inspired by me. We exchanged phone numbers.
Now, I can’t stop thinking about Joe. I mean that cake. That cake was absolutely amazing. And that’s really the truth.