Texas girl in the middle of Kiwiana

Amy Boatman

The Promise

A promise made changes a life forever.

I pulled my Ford Escort into the L-shaped parking lot. The bright sun reflecting off a windshield briefly blinding me. I drove through the lot not finding any open spaces. I pulled back out into the street luckily looking both ways as a Spyder zoomed past going the wrong way on this one way street, the driver too immersed in his mid-life crisis to notice how close he came to hitting me.

I found an empty spot on the street and pulled the car into it, parking behind an older car plastered with rainbow stickers and abortion rights stickers and one that said “Mean people suck”. I chuckled softly and realized I was happy to see that there was a sister somewhere nearby.

p>I turned off the engine and only then did I realize that I was gripping the steering wheel so hard, my knuckles were white. I uncurled my fingers, the knuckles popping. The crack was loud in the quiet car. I noticed that there was a hand-sized patch of moisture on the wheel and noticed my palms were sweaty.

My heart suddenly began galloping through my chest as I contemplated my next move. I really didn't want to be here today. I wanted to turn the ignition back on and drive away from this place; run back to my safe, warm, comfortable cell. My hand moved down to the key and the other hand, almost with a will of its own, reached out and opened the door pulling the other arm with it as it hauled my body out of the car.

I had made a promise. I wanted to be a person who kept her promises. A person that others considered honorable, full of integrity. Well, the only way to be that person was to BE that person. So, I shut the car door and locked it.

The sun was beaming down on the back of my head, a slight breeze brushing across my skin and bringing the smell of exhaust to my nose. It was unseasonably warm for February even this far into Texas . All around me were the sounds of a busy, vibrant city full of people going about their lives. I wondered how many of them had stood right where I was looking over this precipice thinking, “That sure is a long way down”.

I placed my quarters in the meter and turned to cross the street. I paused a moment, drawing in several deep breaths. My heart was still galloping away in my chest and my stomach felt like it was going to be dumping its contents any minute now. My palms were still sweaty and my breath was a little hard to catch. I thought how this was the feeling of love as well as fear and found that funny.

I crossed the street, walked through the parking lot past the SUV's with their American flags stuck on their antennae. Gone were the carefree days of Jack stuck on top of the cars, smiling his goofy smile with not a care in the world. These were days of fervor, fear, anger, and grief. Everything must lose its innocence eventually I guessed. Why did I think I would be any different those long ago days before I gave myself over to addiction?

I realized I had been standing in the middle of the parking lot in a daze when a car honked to move me from its path. I took another deep breath and walked up the steps to the door. The instant the door opened, the smell of “church” hit me. The air a combination of old men, sweaty bodies, confusion, and fear with the AC on too high so you were always cold even in August. At least, that was what it was to me.

The pamphlet had said the basement so I headed down the stairs in front of me walking down the hall at the end. I passed rooms 100, 102, 104 realizing I was on the wrong side of the building. These rooms were filled with hopeful children laughing and learning. I knew they wouldn't put the addicts near them. I found the hallway and wended my way to the other side of the building. I passed rooms 146, 148, then there it was, room 150. This was my last chance to keep my old life. My last chance to keep my addiction because I knew once I went through those doors, I wouldn't be the same. Was this what I wanted? Did I really think I could change? Did I really think I could be strong? Did I really want to give up my habit?

I cried out “Yes” so loud in my head it almost came out my mouth. I broke out in a cold sweat as I entered the room and sat on the couch directly to the left of the door. I was a little late and they had already begun. My mind began to buzz softly in the background and my foot was shaking nervously. I'm sure the girl on the couch with me was not enjoying being shaken around.

I listened as they read the twelve steps and thought how hard some of them sounded. I started to get scared again and had to jerk myself up by the collar and remember to just take one at a time. The name of this group was Just For Today and I thought that apt for me.

I listened as one after another they shared some of their story with the group. As I looked and listened to each one, I thought how ordinary they looked. They didn't look like what I had expected. I'm not sure what I had expected but I thought surely they would have horns or something. Have DA in big letters tattooed on their foreheads. But they were just like me. A housewife, a secretary, a college student, an old biker, a couple of young women, and the lesbian that belonged to that car I was sure.

They related stories of abuse and addiction not unlike my own. I began to relax somewhat, my mind quieting down and my leg no longer rocking my couch mate. My eyes began to tear up as I listened to one woman talk of her struggle to just get out of bed everyday. To just make it five more minutes then five more without a fix. I began to cry for her and myself. This was hard.

After she spoke, I heard myself say, “My name is Amy and I'm an addict” only it came out in sputters and gulps as the tears caught in my throat. Running briefly through my mind was “Did I say that out loud?” but I knew I had, that this was yet another step I would have to take. I had to say this out loud in front of other people in order to get better.

I was only able to say a few words, relay a small bit of my history, but it was enough for now. I felt the weight lifting off my shoulders, my tension headache I had had for hours dissolving away. I had done it. I had admitted to myself and then to others that I was indeed an addict. That I was powerless over my addiction. And I knew at that moment that I didn't want to do the drugs anymore. I felt another small ray of hope beam down into my soul.  

Towards the end of the meeting, the key tags were passed out. When he got to the white one and said this was for beginning, for starting anew, he looked at me with the question in his eye. “Do you want this? Do you want to take this step?” I nodded yes to the unspoken words and stood up. I walked over to him and took the key tag, rubbing it with my thumb as the others in the room broke out in loud applause. He put his arms around me and whispered in my ear, “I'm glad you are here.” Tears rolled down my face as I released him and went back to my seat. I swallowed a few times to get the lump in my throat down and then whispered “Thank you” to him and the others.

My heart felt lighter than it had in years. I had hope that this would work, that I would make it this time. I had asked Jenn why the meetings worked and she said they just do. I could see how they did now. I felt embraced by everyone in the room and it felt good.

At meetings end we stood in a circle, our arms around the waist of the person next to us, and recited the Serenity Prayer. It had new meaning for me now. The meeting over, everyone in the group came over to me, hugged me, and said they were glad I was there. I was glad, too. It had been a small moment in time that would have a huge impact on my life. “Just keep coming back” they all told me. “I will” I said to each one in turn. They all smiled at me and looked on me with genuine caring in their eyes. I knew that we had all been down the same road. Maybe different types of pavement, but nevertheless the same road.

As I left the room, I knew that I would be back. I liked this feeling. I found the stairs and went up to the first floor. They weren't the stairs I had come down but I figured they would work.  

I found a door marked exit and went out it, entering a large courtyard surrounded by a brick wall. I didn't see a way out so I turned around only to find the door had locked behind me. I knocked but no one came. I peered through the glass and saw no one who could let me in.

“Well,” I said out loud to myself, “you do manage to get yourself stuck don't you.” I headed down the stairs, onto the grass, and over to the brick wall figuring that was my best bet for getting out of the courtyard. One side was not very high and I was able to pull myself onto the wall with only a little less grace than a beached baby whale.

Sitting on the wall, I looked down and saw that it was about 15 feet to the ground. “Well, shit,” I did say out loud. The wall was split in half by a big wrought iron fence so just walking the wall to the other side was out of the question.

I hopped down and walked over to the other side. The top of the wall came to my neck. I knew that I would not be able to pull my butt onto that wall without some help. As luck (or providence more likely) would have it, there was a long metal pole resting against the wall of the church and the brick wall. I managed to walk the pole while pulling myself onto the brick wall. I thought surely Allen Funt was going to come out any minute. It was with even less grace than before that I managed to get onto the wall.

The drop from here was only about 10 feet. It was still a long ways for me. As I sat there contemplating how I was going to get out of this one, the irony of the situation hit me in the face. Here I sat, on this wall where the only way to go was to jump. The way behind was locked, no longer the way for me. The only direction was forward and that involved a leap of faith. I could either take that leap and get off the wall and allow my life to go forward. Or I could just sit here stuck on this wall. I could stagnate and die on this wall.

I knew my answer. I knew what I wanted and I knew what I was going to have to do to get it. The right choices are sometimes so much harder than the wrong ones.

I took a deep breath and pushed myself off that wall. For one brief instant, I saw myself landing badly, and then my feet hit the earth and I was free from my confinement. I smiled broadly to myself and gave a mental pat on the back.

I walked down the sidewalk towards my car, towards my life, freer and lighter than I had been in years. I knew that the road ahead was going to be tough with big potholes and the occasional hairpin turn, but I was confident at that moment that I was, at last, on the right road.