“My name is Darren, 2 years sober. I bought this house plant today, and I am an alcoholic.” Darren smiled and gestured theatrically toward the lily plant on the table in front with him. Everyone in the room already had a good look at it.
“I’ve let down many, many people in my relationships as my only real love was my drug of choice. With the advice from my new sponsor, I’m going to avoid a relationship for the next 12 months and learn how to take care of others by taking care of this plant.”
He looked at the plant and then back at his audience. “And I can’t wait to take her home tonight.”
The circle of people sitting around the table laughed and howled.
Investigator Gallego laughed along despite not finding the joke funny. Blending into a crowd was second nature, he had become used to it in undercover assignments. Feeling the bulge of the microphone under his jacket, he reassured himself that the only thing he needed to do today was to keep everyone talking. Someone would slip up.
Outside the windows of the church reception room, an evening rain pattered in the dark courtyard.
A tired looking young man spoke next.
“Lewis. 7 days sober. Taking it one day at a time and working to get back with the program.”
Lewis sat down and received loud applause. On the bulletin board in the front were banners cajoling readers to stay with the program one day at a time.
The members weren’t giving much away Gallego grumbled to himself. Well obviously that was the whole point of being anonymous. He recalled the pictures of the body found on Ridge Street with stab wounds. The deceased was found in his apartment with a 5 year AA sobriety token in his pocket. Brochures of past events held by this group were in a drawer of a desk. And high levels of narcotics were found in his bloodstream. It had been 13 days since the body was found and they haven’t identified a person of interest yet and this group was the best lead they had.
The case wouldn't be as easy as the others had been lately. AA members were the only group left that doesn’t post photos of everything onto social media.
“Anna. 209 days sober.” Anna looked nervous to be speaking in front of the group. “It’s great to hear today about Darren and his house plant. I’m also learning how to be a friend and have a real relationship. Looking back I’ve always viewed everyone as either above me or below me, but never at the same level.” Anna continued to talk about the topic of friendship for a slightly indulgent length of time before concluding.
Before the meeting, Gallego had overheard two members smoking discussing their opinions on the fact that Anna lying. She had been secretly drinking every weekend and had yet to come clean to the group.
A slightly frazzled middle aged man in an expensive looking sweater spoke next.
“Malcolm. 6 years. I’m stressed today as I’ve been meeting with investors this week. I’ve let the people from my finance career know that I’m no longer drinking and that they can trust me now. This will be my biggest project ever and I'll be doing it independently. I work the steps everyday to remind myself of the damage drinking caused to my life. Thanks for letting me share.“
Malcolm’s eyes danced around the room frantically showing signs of borderline schizophrenia.
“My name is Jessica and I’m an alcoholic.” A woman in fashionable makeup and business clothes smiled at everyone calmly.. “Today, I would also like to welcome our visitor Marcus.”
Half of the room lifted their faces and glanced at Gallego and clapped a few times.
Jessica continued, “I am a happy drinker. I love drinking! But my story is I was always the drunkest person at the party. The penny dropped the day I jumped off a ferry at an office party. People at the office didn't think that was as normal as I did. I just thought i was having a bit of fun, but the next week everyone was asking me if I was ok."
“It’s shocking what some of us experience. One of my girlfriends in my last group went for a night out and when she woke up, she was in a stranger's apartment. When she touched the man in bed next to her, the body was cold. She didn’t remember a single thing about how she got there or what happened. Without any evidence the police had to let her off. "
“I don’t want to think I could do that to someone someday, so I’m thankful to be here.”
The room was more hush after this story. Hardened drinkers they were contemplating what could have happened to them on a blackout episode.
A well groomed businessman in a suit spoke next.
“Mike, alcoholic. Nothing as dramatic from me, I just ordered a cow milk latte in a vegan cafe,” he said. “I asked for regular milk and the barista kept repeating the choices of soy, almond and oat milk. Soy, almond or oat milk. Then I saw the name the sign behind the counter. Vegalicious. The embarrassment made me think about all the times I drank to forget, so I decided to come to a meeting. I never want to go down that rabbit hole again.”
He received muffled applause and when the room became still again, an agitated looking middle aged man glanced up and looked nervously to the left and right before saying, “I’ll pass”.
It was now Gallego’s turn to speak. Lying was easy. He never lost his conviction that he was serving a higher purpose, working toward a greater good.
“Marcus, visiting from the Downtown group. 7 years sober.”
“It is powerful to be here today in the home group of my friend Sage, who most of you must know. He was a good friend” Gallego thought of his grandmother’s passing which always brought tears to his eyes. “I’m still processing his death and have been afraid it would make my drink this week.”
When Gallego finished the last sentence, he carefully observed their reactions. They avoided his gaze and looked down to the right, a classic sign of avoidance. An escape from the negative emotion prefered not to process. They had known the victim or possibly even been his friend. When he scanned the room only one person diverted their gaze down to the left instead.
He would send the name to the station immediately after the meeting.
“Thanks for letting me share my experience, strength and hope.”
Since Gallego was the last person to speak the honor of closing the meeting went to him.
“And now ladies, gentlemen and murderers, you may fill in the questionnaires under your dinner plates.” The host of the murder mystery party reappeared, “After filling out your questionnaire, please return your borrowed clothing to Rebecca at reception. After a ten minute break we will reveal all the answers you are dying to hear and begin our award ceremony.”
Jack, the handsome suburban husband playing inspector Galego, wrote his answer on the thick piece of paper carefully so no one else could see. His wife had winked at him when no one else was looking. They were both in AA and instinctively knew no one, unless rebounding from a newly dug rock bottom, would buy a house plant 2 years after joining.