The First Meeting

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When Rob first came to live with us in Venice, I insisted that he go to daily AA meetings. I wasn’t exactly sure what good they would do him, but I didn’t think it would hurt and it gave me the illusion of control, which was the closest I would ever get to working any magic on Rob.

To show him that I meant business, I went with him to the first meeting in Santa Monica just a few hours after he had unpacked his shit and made himself comfortable in our house. I drove to an address I had plugged into my GPS and pulled up to a church.

“I’m not sure we’re allowed in there,” Rob said dryly, sounding a whole lot like me.

“It’s true. I don’t know a lot of Jewish alcoholics,” I joked back. “We’re more a tribe of drug addicts.”

A few middle-aged women smoking cigarettes outside nodded at us, and we nodded back like we were old pros at this. The truth was that neither of us was thrilled to be there.

Apparently there was some kind of pre-meeting private thing going on inside the church. They told us we could go in as soon as it was finished. We didn’t have a clue about what to expect other than what we had seen in the movies and on TV.

“You guys can go in now,” said one of the smokers a few minutes later, and so we did. Inside were 50 or 60 chairs arranged in a large semi-circle, a few rows deep, with one chair in the middle. So of course Rob and I made a beeline to the back of the room where there were some scattered folding chairs. I sat down while Rob went to grab a cup of coffee. As I looked around, I noticed a few people talking to one another, but on the whole it was like everywhere you go these days. Most people were buried in their phones.

“This place is packed,” Rob said as he sat down.

“I know! And I saw a bunch of beautiful women here,” I said. “This place could be better for you than Tinder.”

Rob just nodded and sipped his coffee.

The meeting began with what I came to learn is the AA Preamble. The one line I recall is: “The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.” Then came the Serenity Prayer.

“Here we go with the fuckin’ God stuff,” Rob whispered to me.

“I like that you’re keeping an open mind,” I whispered back.

A woman in the center of the semi-circle who was running the show asked if there were any newcomers at the meeting who would like to introduce themselves. A few people raised their hands. We were not among them.

“Raise your hand!” I mouthed to Rob.

“You raise your fuckin’ hand,” he mouthed back.

Then it was time for all of the “Hello, my name is…” and “I’m an alcoholic” sharing stuff. There were multiple mentions of the “Big Book,” but beyond that I don’t remember much about what was said or anyone in particular, other than one intense dude who was covered in tats and reminded me of the famous tough guy Chuck Zito.

That was followed by a few announcements about a picnic and who was assigned to bring what and something about getting court vouchers signed before leaving. Then I noticed people passing a basket. When it got to me, I threw in a five to cover the two of us.

At the end of the meeting, everyone in the room stood up and held hands while reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I held Rob’s hand tight, feeling cautiously optimistic. A number of people who shared stories that day had gone through way worse hell than Rob had, and now they were in recovery, living their lives, as the saying goes, one day at a time.

After the big “Amen,” a few folks were milling about while some other guys started to stack the chairs. Rob surprised me by helping them out and then we split.

“So other than for the God stuff, what did you think?” I asked as we walked back to the car.

“It was all right,” Rob said, lighting a cigarette. “I liked the tattoo guy.”

“I thought it was really interesting,” I said, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.

“Well, good for you,” he said.

I would go to only one other AA meeting with Rob, about a year later, on what turned out to be one of the most extraordinary days in my life. I’ll tell you about it some other time.

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