A Story About Addiction

by Owen Carry

I wanted to tell this story at my meeting today but decided not to. It’s not a very long story and it happened fairly recently, just two days ago. There’s a new deli that opened up not far from me and it’s starting to become my new go-to. It’s simple, fast and the prices seem to be the cheapest in the area. It’s so new that they don’t even have a menu yet, just all the selections like meat, veggies and condiments in the glass case in front of you. You just point at what you want and the guy makes your sandwich. I kind of like the vibe in there and I really like that it’s cheap and I think the guys will start to recognize me soon.

Anyway, I was there the other day waiting for my order when an older, skinny woman, dressed in jogging clothes, came in wearing an N-95. She seemed vaguely in a rush and she hesitated at me standing there. She was wondering if I was waiting in line or not. When she asked me, I said that I had already ordered. Then this got the attention of the guy behind the counter.

She then proceeded to ask the dumbest question ever. “Yes,” she said. “Do you guys serve sandwiches with eggs, bacon and cheese?”

The deli guy was polite. I don’t think he wanted to alienate her. “Yes, we do.”

“Oh, great!” She sounded relieved, in a way that came out as excitement. “Well, I’ll take three of those then. Eggs, cheese and bacon, on a hero. All three on heroes.”

The deli man thought for a second and then gave her a thumbs up. First, he had to finish my order.

She kept hovering though, needing his attention for one more moment. “Wait!” she said. “Do you guys carry Pepsi sodas?” She was on her tippy-toes, trying to peak over the counter where he was working. "Are there Pepsi sodas back there? Where can I get them? And they need to be Diet. Do you have Diet sodas back there?”

The guy flinched. She jumped back.

He pointed to the beverage fridges, lined up in the back, practically emitting half of the light in the establishment.

“Perfect!” she said and then she let him be.

A different man was behind me. I wondered if he was eaves-dropping too. I was just on my phone. I was always on my phone. I was just waiting for my sandwich too.

I heard her grab three Pepsis and carry them to the cashier. She was holding them all in one hand, each cap was pinched between two fingers. She was fiddling with her purse with the other hand, I guess trying to get her wallet. I watched her place all of them on the counter and they almost fell behind the counter.

The cashier boy was chewing gum and watching her, but he reacted when the bottles were gonna fall. They didn’t though. His earbuds unplugged from his phone when he hopped off his stool to catch them.

He looked flustered when they didn’t fall. He wasn’t listening to his music anymore. He pushed them forward while they were still sideways on the counter. She handed him her credit card, but he didn’t take it. He put his hand out like a stop sign, basically saying, “Just wait for the sandwiches to be ready.” 

I remember seeing those three, hero rolls, splayed open on the cutting board. I saw the chef press them flat and put them in the toaster.

My sandwich was ready though, and I had to go. I didn’t stay long enough to see the eggs, bacon and cheese put into them.  
If I stayed long enough to see that, I probably would have said something funny to that guy standing behind me. I probably would have raised a question to him, about who the lady was bringing these sandwiches back to. This frumpy little Manhattan lady, fussing with three bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on heroes. They’d probably barely fit in the plastic bag they’d hand her. I imagined in my head, who were these three, hungry people? Were they her sons, cousins, daughters, triplets? Where they healthy, scared, happy, hungry? Were they already full? Were they getting a “surpise lunch” or was this a usual thing? Why were they all drinking diet soda?

I thought about telling this story at my meeting today but I didn’t end up doing it because I thought, well... It didn’t have much to do with addiction. Instead, I told a story about my grandfather. He’s dead now but he was alive when I was still in my early twenties.

It got to a point with him where he had to be in a nursing home despite his drinking problem. My parents had to look for a place that would essentially turn a blind eye to his drinking problem. They’d monitor it and mitigate it, but if he wanted a scotch and soda at twelve o’ clock, they weren’t going to turn him down. The best thing the nurses could do was water down his drinks before four, that way, they could still have him standing in the cafeteria for dinner time.

Back then, my mother was really worried about my grandfather. She took frequent trips to Indiana by car. These were long trips, and I imagined that she drove for most of the hours. She’s the kind of person to do that, just to keep driving. That’s the way she is. She wants to get there quick and not waste any time.

I was in grad school when this was happening but I lived close enough to my parent’s home in Maryland that I could come by for dinner on the weekends. My parents would sometimes come to D.C. too, and we’d get dinner near my school. Every now and then, I’d pick up the dinner bill. I was getting to be that age. 

Because I lived so close to home and because my mom was always going out there, I felt guilty sometimes about not going out with her to see my Grandpa. I knew that he liked me. I knew that she told him stories about me, that I was in grad school, studying. When she told me about the stories she told him, I felt like I was some postcard on his dresser. Something for him to look at.

There was this one time that I called my mom when she was out there and we talked on the phone for a while about other things besides Grandpa. Before the call ended though, she told me, “By the way, if your Grandpa calls you sometime this week, tell him, ‘Enjoy the shirt!’” My mother had gotten him a dress shirt and told him that it was from me, that I’d picked it out specifically for him. On the phone, she told me that he loved it, he loved it. And, it was also the only way she could get him to change his shirt. It was the only way she could get him to change his clothes. He’d been wearing the same outfit for two months at that point and he refused to shower. “He doesn’t like the women bathing him,” she said.

So the next time my mother planned on going there, I wanted to join her. I thought she might not want me to come but when I brought it up she was happy about it. I guess she always wanted a road companion. My dad never joined her, but my mom’s siblings sometimes joined her. They never drove together though. They all lived in different parts of the country. But when one of my uncles or aunts joined my mom, my dad felt less obligated to go.

Of course, there were always hidden parts of his decision that were loud enough to be known but not spoken on.

He sometimes talked to me about it, about my mother’s trips, about my grandpa. It always happened when we were alone. I could never reveal the gritty details of our conversations to my mother. My dad knew more details than I did, about what was really going on out there, and my mother knew all of my dad’s opinions but none of the adjectives that he used to back them up. 

From my conversations with him, I thought that I knew fully what I was getting myself into, in that, I felt like my mom was down-playing the ugliness of the situation out in Indiana. Sometimes, not often, she gave hints at the reality out there. For instance, I couldn’t believe that my Grandpa hadn’t changed his clothes in two months.

Our road trip started in the family car. The first thing I was right about was her ritual of driving. She drove until she dropped, but now she had someone to take the day shift for her. That meant we didn’t stop at all, not even to sleep. I still felt like she was watering down her manicness though, like, when we stopped for Arby’s she was smiling, too much. I imagined her passing Arby’s on every trip but needed someone hungry like me to insist that we stop.

I hated it, the driving. I’d forgotten that. I wished we stretched more, took more rest stops. I wish I didn’t have to pee in a bottle, right next to her. But when my mom drove, I could tell she was dependent on the sense of dread. She lived on the masochism of it. She drove really fast. 

We reached Indiana at lightning speed, not because she wanted to get there but because she wanted to get it over with. I felt like we did it faster than a robot could have. It was so mechanical, the whole drive. When we got to the Indiana border, I needed some sort of sentimentality to remind me that I was human. I insisted that my mom take a picture of me with the “Welcome to Indiana” sign. I showed the picture to my meeting. I passed around my phone. It was practically the only photo that I took on that trip.  

When we got to the nursing home mid-day, we were checked in by my mom’s usual nurse. The place was a lot nicer than I imagined. There were palm trees there, in Indiana, lining the front of the building.

Inside, the receptionist’s desk was surrounded by white receding staircases, like a mansion. It felt they’d put the front desk where a piano should be. Nurses and other staffers were walking around the lobby, wheeling aimless seniors, each of them with their own, small team of professionals. Some of the staffers came out from a hallway on the right and motioned for us to follow them. They took my mom to see my Grandpa’s room. I followed. He was sitting alone in there, in a wheelchair, not watching TV or anything.

Seeing him sitting there reminded me of when we used to visit my grandparents for Thanksgiving or other holidays, before they sold their house in Illinois. He’d always be sitting there, in a chair, doing nothing. My gut reaction was always that he was on his phone, checking things. But my Grandpa didn’t have a phone. He was just looking at his thumbs, moving them around, and frowning. That was when my grandmother still took care of him. Now that she was oldn too, she couldn’t do it anymore.

At the nursing home, when we walked into his room, he was only expecting my mother. I don’t think she told him that I was coming. I think she wanted it to be a surprise. She knew that he’d be so happy to see me. We could talk about his nice, new shirt and stuff. She told me in the car that it was blue, and Lululemon brand. 

My mother walked into the room first and his expression didn’t move much. His face was low and hanging, not surprised, almost as if she was another nurse he’d been waiting on. I came in a second later. I felt that I was part of some grand reveal perpetuated by my mother, so I decided to lean into it. My Grandpa’s expression definitely changed when I walked in.

At my meeting, I looked around at everyone before I told them that his expresseion wasn’t what I had expected. Maybe in some movie somewhere, about the relationship between a grandfather and his grandson, he’d stand up from his chair for the first time in ten days and hug me and smile. He’d hold my shoulders and say my name, whispering that it was good to see me.

When I walked in, he did say my name, but then it was followed by the most palpable shame I’d ever seen. He looked away and down at his socks and said, “Shit,” and crossed his legs. He averted his eyes from me and picked up his scotch glass, kind of shaking. My mom and I approached him and then... I don’t know, nothing really. We talked to him.

I saw the new shirt on him. He was wearing it. I mentioned that to my meeting. At that point though, with my story though, I felt like I had taken up a lot of time. I didn’t really feel like continuing with any more details. The meeting’s host, a guy named Mark, wanted me to continue talking but he didn’t say anything explicitly. I could just tell. He let me trail off.

The next person in the circle started their story quickly and I sat back and kind of zoned out. I started thinking about the lady at the deli again. I should have told that story instead because I could have ended with that funny idea of who were the sandwiches for? Who were they for?

Then I thought, like, maybe those three, giant hero sandwiches and three diet Pepsi bottles, weren’t even for three, man-children triplets back in her Upper West Side apartment. They were actually just for her. That would have been a funny thing to end with. The image of her eating all three of those hero sandwiches in one sitting, like, she’d heard so much about these “bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches” that she had to try them for herself.

And then I imagined something more; her in her home, not her even eating all of them in one sitting, but rather, eating one, maybe half a one, and then saving the rest for later, to eat over the course of the week. She’d have a half a hoagie and a small glass of Pepsi every morning, just to get her day going.