A Time to Mend – Chapter 16

Link to Chapter 15

I talked to Simon Bennett about Rick a couple of weeks later. We were meeting for a late afternoon coffee at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House; the place was crowded, and we were lucky to squeeze ourselves into a table in the corner. After our customary conversation about Colin, Simon asked after my family, and I brought him up to date about our three patients. My father had been able to go home a couple of days before, but he was still very weak, and it had been determined that he would need regular blood transfusions from this point on. He was glad to be home, of course, but I knew that his move back to Northwood was going to make it more difficult for Emma and me to visit him, as he was now ten miles away instead of just down the road from us at the hospital.

Sarah was now in traction to help her pelvis heal. The immediate effect of this had been to immobilize her even further, and she had sunk into a deep depression. Emma was spending even more time at the hospital with her, and I was getting really concerned about her wearing herself out, as she had just begun to work full-time as well.

When I told Simon about Rick’s struggles with alcoholism, his comment was “Sounds like you need a recovering alcoholic who also happens to be a lawyer”.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, it probably wouldn’t work for me to try to help – not at this stage, anyway. You Masefields were brought up to be snobs, weren’t you? He probably wouldn’t be able to see any further than my working-class accent and my shabby clothes and the fact that I’m teaching a bunch of kids who consistently fail their exams”.

“Okay, I see what you mean”.

“I can find you a lawyer if you want; there’s one in my AA group. Your brother might even know him; these lawyers seem to be thick as thieves, don’t they?”

“Tell me more”.

“His name’s Jack, he’s a bit older than you, I think, and he’s had the same sort of life as me – drank for years, lost a marriage and all that. He’s been a bit luckier than me since he sobered up, though – he got remarried a couple of years ago. I’ve never met his wife, but he seems quite happy. He’s been sober for about six years, I think. I don’t know much about his legal practice, I think he’s into corporate law. He’s probably a filthy capitalist at heart!”

I laughed; “Sounds like he and Rick might have something in common!”

“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Why put up barriers if you don’t need to? The more they have in common, the easier it’ll be”.

“Simon, if you don’t mind me asking, what motivated you to want to sober up?”

“Losing my marriage. At first I was just mad at Julie for stealing my girls and leaving me, but then I looked at myself in the mirror one morning after a night of drinking and thought, ‘Look at yourself, Simon! Honestly, can you blame her?’ Honesty hadn’t been my strong suit until then; that’s another characteristic of us drunks. We’re very good at denying the obvious and blaming the whole world for our problems”.

“So you got into AA right away?”

“Almost. I checked into a treatment program and they got me into AA. In the long run, AA was more important; the treatment centre was a bit shy about talking about the Higher Power, whereas in AA the whole program’s built around him”.

“So it’s a spiritual program?”

“I suppose you could call it that, but I don’t really like that word; it doesn’t sound like a word that gets dirt under its fingernails, if you know what I mean? Mind you, it’s used in our Big Book; it talks about having a ‘spiritual awakening’. But I think that’s a bit misleading sometimes; it sounds a bit too grandiose. ‘Conscious contact with God as we understand him’ – that’s the phrase from the Big Book I like”.

“I like that, too”.

He grinned; “Thought you would; you’re not one of those bloody hypocrites who goes to church and then stabs you in the back when you go to work the next day”.

“Not all churchgoers are hypocrites, Simon”.

“I know that, but we drunks tend to bring out the worst in them. I haven’t had a lot of sympathy from religious people over the years. Not for me to judge, of course, but in some cases I wonder if they’ve got that ‘conscious contact with God’ part”.

Simon introduced me to his friend Jack the following week. We met in the early evening at Simon’s house, a small terraced home in the Jericho area of Oxford, not far from the canal. “Good place for developing self-control”, Simon had once explained to me with a grin; “More pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the city!”

This was the first time I had been to Simon’s home, and it was much as I had expected; two days’ worth of dishes in the kitchen sink, newspapers and books lying around everywhere, and a strong smell of cigarette smoke. He met me at the door with a smile. “Before you say anything, I know: I live like a pig. Go on through into the living room; Jack’s already there. I’ll get you a coffee if you want”.

“That’ll be fine”.

The door into the living room was on my left as Simon went down the hall to the kitchen. When I went through into the room I saw a tall, wiry-looking man in a grey suit and tie, sitting with his legs crossed in a battered armchair by the gas fire smoking a comfortable-looking pipe, a cup of coffee at his elbow. He got to his feet and held out his hand to me. “Jack Scovill”, he said in a refined upper-class accent; “I’m delighted to meet you”.

“Tom Masefield”, I replied, shaking his hand firmly.

“Masefield?” he said as we sat down again; “Your brother wouldn’t be Richard Masefield of Masefield and Marlowe by any chance, would he?”

“Do you know Rick?”

“Not intimately, but we’ve worked together, and sometimes we’ve been on opposite sides of a courtroom. It tends to happen in corporate law; we fight like cats and dogs in court, and then go out for a drink together afterwards. At least, I used to go out for a drink with Rick; haven’t done that for a few years now”.

Simon came back into the room and handed me my coffee. “I take it you two have introduced yourselves?” he said.

“As it happens, I’m acquainted with Tom’s brother”, Jack explained to him. “Not that we’re close friends or anything, but we’ve shared the odd drink after a trial and all that”.

“Didn’t used to get plastered together, by any chance?”

“Not that I recall, but who knows – there’s a lot I don’t recall about those days!”

We all laughed as Simon took his seat on the chesterfield across from me. “So, Tom, perhaps you’d better fill Jack in on the details”, he suggested.

I told Jack what I knew about Rick’s drinking and the effect it was having on his family and friends; he listened without interrupting, puffing contentedly on his pipe. I then recounted the accident and its aftermath, explaining about the rift between Rick and Alyson, the black mood my brother had been in for the last two or three weeks, and the charges he would be facing when he got out of hospital.

When I was finished, Jack took his pipe out of his mouth and said, “Do you know how long he’s been drinking?”

I shook my head. “I was living in Canada, you see, and my visits here were pretty rare. Of course, he used to drink casually when we were teenagers and young adults, and he probably had a few binges when he was up at university. But I first noticed it being a real problem when I was in England for a holiday six and a half years ago; I noticed that he was drinking a lot at mealtimes, and he sometimes made inappropriate comments – that sort of thing. But my sister Becca tells me the problem goes back quite a bit further than that. I don’t know the whole story, and as far as I know Becca doesn’t either. She’s a lot younger than Rick and me”.

“And you’ve been visiting him regularly since he went into hospital?”

“Three or four times a week”.

“He’s depressed, you say? So he’s not in denial?”

“Oh no – far from it. The day after the accident, when I visited him, he freely confessed to me that the first thing on his mind was the fact that he needed a drink. No, if anything he’s got the opposite problem – his situation seems to be overwhelming him. He’s got absolutely no hope that things can ever change. He’s convinced that it’s too late for him”.

“Is he suicidal?”

I frowned and thought for a moment. “It’s funny you should ask that”, I replied. “I thought about that too when the accident happened. I mean, if I was in his place – if my daughter had been given a permanent spinal cord injury because of my drinking – I think the remorse would be absolutely overpowering”.

“We probably need to be open to the possibility that he’s suicidal. Who’s his doctor?”

“I don’t know; why do you ask?”

“Sometimes if a doctor knows about AA, that can be helpful for us”, Simon explained.  He turned to Jack and said, “Tom’s sister’s a doctor too, and she’s quite knowledgable about alcoholism”.

“So what exactly do you fellows have in mind?” I asked.

“Well, the object is to motivate Rick to look for help”, Jack replied. “But he’s got to believe it’s possible, and at the moment he obviously doesn’t. So the strategy would be to share my own story with him, in the hope that he’ll see that I was in desperate circumstances of my own, and the program helped me to recover”.

“Have you done this sort of thing before?”

They both nodded, and Simon added, “It’s part of our program, Tom. Step Twelve says, ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics’.

“You know, I can’t believe that I’ve been ignorant about A.A. for all these years”.

“You and millions of other people”, Jack replied.

“So – when do we go to see Rick?”

“Actually”, said Jack, leaning forward in his chair, “I think it would be a lot better if I went by myself”.

“Why?”

“Well, if I tagged along with you, it would look suspiciously as if you’d brought me in as an expert to ‘fix him up’ – which of course is exactly what you would be doing, but we want to avoid giving him that impression until I’ve managed to sneak under his defenses with my story. On the other hand, it’s not inconceivable that I should go to visit him by myself; after all, we are acquainted and, as I said, we were drinking pals a few years ago. If he asks me later on if you and I cooked this plan up together, of course I’ll tell him the truth, but hopefully he won’t ask that question right away”.

“But won’t it seem a bit suspicious if you just appear out of nowhere, after he’s been in hospital for three or four weeks?”

“Possibly. If he raises that issue, I can simply say that I’ve only just heard about his accident – which, strictly speaking, is quite true, isn’t it?”

I saw immediately the wisdom of the approach Jack was proposing. “Okay; when do you think you might be able to go and see him?”

“I could go tomorrow; when do you think I’d have the best chance of being alone with him?”

I considered this for a moment. “I think early afternoon”, I replied. “When visiting hours start, the rest of the family seems to visit Sarah first, so if you go right at the beginning of visiting hours, that would probably be best. But then, I don’t know how free your afternoons are”.

“As it happens, I’m fairly flexible tomorrow afternoon; I’ll go over to visit him right after lunch”.

“And you’ll let me know how it goes?”

“I will, and if you want to say a few words on my behalf to the Higher Power after lunch tomorrow – well, that would probably be a good idea, too!”

Jack called me at home the following evening as I was preparing supper. As soon as I recognised his voice, I asked, “How did it go?”

“Not bad”, he replied. “He was rather surprised to see me, but he wasn’t annoyed or anything. I fished around for a while, but he wasn’t taking my bait, and so eventually I opted for the straightforward question. I told him I’d heard he’d been driving under the influence when the accident happened, and I asked him if he had a problem with drinking. He was a bit hesitant to reply to that one, so I told him I’d had that problem myself, and I asked if I could tell him my story. He didn’t object, so I talked a bit about my struggles, and pretty soon we were swapping drunk stories like old soldiers – it happens every time, and it’s absolutely the best way to build bridges. Then eventually I told him about losing my marriage and my family, and he got very quiet at that point. I told him how I’d got into A.A., and how it had worked for me. At first he was still really quiet, but after I talked about it for a bit he started to ask some questions. Then after a while someone else came in to visit him, and I asked him if I could come back again. He said I could if I liked. So I think all in all it went pretty well”.

“What happens now? Do you think he’ll go into A.A.?”

“Hard to say at this point; he’s definitely sniffing at the bait, but we’ll have to be very careful how we reel him in, so to speak. If we try to pull him in too quickly and vigorously, he might just jump off the line altogether”.

“You didn’t say anything to him about us having met and talked about him beforehand?”

“No, and I wouldn’t raise it with him if I were you – not unless he brings up the subject. I’ll go and see him again in a couple of days, when he’s had a chance to chew over the things we talked about”.

I went to visit Rick the following evening. He had been moved from the trauma unit into a private ward; his leg was still in traction, but his other injuries were healing nicely, and his doctor had mentioned the possibility of him going home in a week or so. Rick was in two minds about this, of course; the thought of going home was welcome, but the police had already laid charges against him, and leaving hospital was one step closer to his day in court.

He was reading a newspaper when I entered his room; he looked up at the sound of my greeting, and to my surprise an expression of annoyance flashed across his face.

“You’ve got a nerve!” he exclaimed.

“What do you mean?”

“You know bloody well what I mean! I suppose it was you that sent Jack Scovill down here yesterday afternoon?”

“I only met Jack a couple of days ago”, I replied; “We were introduced by a mutual friend who’s also an AA member”.

“You’d been talking about me, I take it?”

“You’re a rather big part of my life right now, Rick; when my friends ask me how things are going, it’s a bit hard to avoid the topic of you and Sarah”.

“So you told one of my legal colleagues the entire story of my present misfortunes, did you?”

“Not the entire story, no; just the broad outline”.

“And what makes you think you have the right to do that?”

I felt the anger flaring up inside, and I paused for a moment before replying. “Rick”, I said, “if I’ve trespassed on your privacy then I’m truly sorry; I did it because I was concerned for you and because I want to help you, not because I want to gloat or feel superior or anything like that”.

“What makes you think I need your help?” he demanded.

“I thought we’d got past this; I thought you’d come to a place where you were looking for some help to make some changes in your life. Obviously I was wrong”.

“I know I’ve got to do something about my drinking”, he said, “but that doesn’t mean I need your help or anyone else’s help to do it”.

“Don’t be silly, Rick! Millions of people around the world have sat where you’re sitting right now, and very, very few of them have been able to sober up without some kind of help!”

“Oh, so you’re suddenly an expert on drinking problems, are you?”

“Of course I’m not”. I paused and looked away, letting the silence hang between us for a few minutes. “Look, Rick”, I said eventually;“Let’s not fight. If I made a mistake, then I apologise. I don’t think I did, but it’s not up to me to decide that”.

“You’re damn right it’s not!”

I got to my feet. “There’s obviously not a great deal of point in us trying to visit tonight”, I said; “I’ll go down and join Emma in Sarah’s room. I’ll come and see you again on Sunday evening after we come back from Mum and Dad’s; I hope that’s alright. I also hope you’ll let Jack come and see you again; I think he’s got a lot of experience to share and a lot of help to give. Good night, Rick”.

He didn’t reply, but he took the hand I held out and shook it halfheartedly without meeting my eyes. “You take care”, I said, and then turned and left the room.

“It didn’t go quite as well as you thought, Jack”, I said. I was speaking into the cordless phone while I warmed up the water for late night hot chocolate; Emma was upstairs getting ready for bed.

“How so?”

I recounted my conversation with Rick. When I was finished there was silence on the line for a brief moment, and then he said, “I’m not particularly surprised, and I’m not unduly alarmed. My one mistake seems to have been not being open about the fact that you and I had talked. He had obviously thought that through himself, and then spent a lot of time stewing on it. But it’s not unusual or unexpected that someone in his situation should react as he did tonight”.

“But he can’t stop drinking without help, can he?”

“Of course not; if he could, he would have done it before now”.

“Then what do we do?”

“The best thing for you to do is to avoid the subject altogether with him. Obviously your personal history makes it very difficult for him to receive your help in a positive manner”.

“But then how are we going to help him?”

“I didn’t say we were going to withdraw help altogether. He hasn’t actually thrown me out of his room yet, and to tell you the truth I doubt if he will. I’ll keep visiting him, and I’ll keep talking and listening. Don’t despair, Tom; leave some room for the Higher Power to work. You’re a religious man, I’m told?”

I laughed; “Touché!” I said. “Okay, I’ll leave well alone. Just keep me posted, all right?”

“By all means”.

The following day was a Friday, and Emma and I drove out to my parents’ home after school. Becca had taken the afternoon off, and she had obviously helped my mother prepare supper. My father was looking better, but his spirits seemed very low. Emma attempted to engage him in conversation several times during the meal, but his replies were as brief as possible, and so soft as to be almost inaudible. After supper he excused himself as soon as he could, asking my mother if she could help him get ready for bed. When Emma offered to read to him, he gave a sad smile and said, “Thank you, my dear, but I’m a little too tired tonight”.

Becca and I cleared up and loaded the dishwasher while my parents went upstairs and Emma sat and read in the living room. “He’s pretty low, isn’t he?” I observed.

“He’s depressed, and that’s not unexpected”.

“You’re not worried?”

She was bending over the dishwasher loading plates; she straightened up, looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t like seeing him like this any more than you do, Tommy, but there’s not a lot of point in trying to snap him out of it, if you know what I mean? It’s a stage on the journey, and he’ll get through it in his own time if we let him”.

“What does it mean?”

“I suspect he’s realized that he can’t deny his own mortality any more”.

“You mean he’s accepted the fact that he’s going to die?”

“I doubt if he’s accepted it consciously, but deep down inside he knows it”.

We finished loading the dishwasher and moved over to wash the pots and pans. She was silent for a few minutes as she bent over the sink; I dried a couple of pans for her, then glanced at her and asked, “Are you okay?”

“I am”.

“You seem a little preoccupied”.

She turned and looked at me. “Well, I’ve got some news”, she said.

“What is it?”

She gave me a sudden smile of gladness; “Mike and I had lunch together this week”, she said.

I stared at her in surprise; “Well, by the expression on your face I can tell that it wasn’t a total failure!”

“No, it wasn’t”, she replied; “We talked, and I apologized, and he apologized too, and we agreed to go out for supper next week and talk again”.

“And you’re happy about this?”

“I’m almost afraid to let myself be happy, Tommy!”

“So are you two…?”

“It’s too early to say, but at least we’re talking, and that’s a big improvement over what went before”.

I put my arm around her shoulders; “I’m glad for you”.

She grinned at me; “Please don’t let me mess up again, Tommy”, she said. “If you catch me short-changing him, please scold me, and remind me what’s at stake, will you? I know full well I’ve been given another chance, and I really don’t want to mess up”.

I kissed her on the forehead. “You won’t”, I replied; “You’re older and wiser now, and you’ve got a lot to give”.

“I hope so”.

“Shall we go into the living room and tell Emma? She’ll be thrilled!”

“Actually, do you mind if we don’t? You can tell her later if you like, but I’m almost afraid to talk about it until I see where it leads; do you know what I mean?”

“I think so; would you rather I not talk to Emma, then?”

“I don’t mind you talking to her; just don’t do it until after you go home, alright? I don’t want her to ask me anything about it”

“Okay; I understand”.

“Thanks, Tommy”.

Link to Chapter 17

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Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

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