He stood outside the elevator, looking towards the pale green door. Under the harsh fluorescent lights, he paced the long, stark hallway again: forty steps to the green door, twenty-eight more steps to the stairs at the other end. He retraced his steps: twenty-eight to the door, forty back to the elevator. He reached up to push the elevator button, but he forced his hand back to his side. Slowly, he walked back to the green door.
He still couldn’t go in. The building was old. The metal doorframe was painted to match the door; the weary-white walls needed a new coat of paint. He glanced down the hallway. No chairs, no pictures, no people, it was empty.
“It can’t be that bad,” he told himself. “Just go inside.” He took a deep breath, straightened his shoulders, and reached for the old metal handle.
The elevator beeped, its door opening. Quickly, he began walking toward the stairs. Two men got off and followed him. They stopped at the green door and went inside. He heard it latch shut behind them, just as he reached the stairs. He sighed deeply, body sagging against the door to the stairwell. Why was this so hard?
He thrust his hands into the pockets of his blue jacket and looked out the window. His right hand felt the note. He could see the red-crayon drawing, the misspelled words neatly printed in the unsteady handwriting of a seven year old. “To my Dady. I lov you. Mommy says you are sick. I hop you get beter soon. I miss you. Kara”
She’d drawn a house with a family of three labeled Mommy, Dady, Kara. There was a dog, too. Kara hoped to get a dog for her birthday. And she hoped her Daddy would get better soon. “I want to be better, Kara,” he whispered out the window.
Hearing the green door open, the man stood up. A dark-haired man poked his head out and scanned the hallway, toward the elevator, then toward the stairs. Their eyes met. The dark-haired man stepped into the hall; the door latched behind him. He was tall, wearing well-worn jeans and a red striped polo shirt.
“Hello! Can I help you?”
“No thanks. I was just looking.”
“Well, this building can be a bit confusing. What room were you looking for?”
He couldn’t respond. He wished the dark-haired man would go back inside. There was a moment of silence before the dark haired man spoke again. This time his voice was quiet. “What’s your name?”
The man looked up, uncertain. Finally, he swallowed and spoke. “Sam.”
“It’s nice to meet you Sam. My name is Pete. I lead the AA meeting that meets here tonight.” He pointed over his shoulder at the green door. “I want you to know that it took me 35 minutes to open that door the first time I came for a meeting. You can take as long as you need.”
Pete turned and walked back towards the door. Sam watched him, panic seizing him. This might be his last chance before he chickened out and went home.
“Wait!” Pete stopped at the door.
“I don’t know how to go in. I don’t know how to stop being what I am. I only know I want to start being different.”
“Then you have to open this door.” Pete faced him, his open hand welcoming Sam down the hall.
Sam swallowed hard and slowly moved down the hall towards the green door. He met Pete’s eyes, then looked down, took a ragged breath and swallowed hard again.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he whispered, staring at the door handle.
Pete put a hand on his shoulder. “You don’t have to know the end. The men in that room can help you, but you have to get yourself inside. Right now, the end is not important; right now, just focus on the start.”
Sam nodded. Gripping Kara’s note in his right hand, he reached for the door handle. Slowly, he turned it and pushed. Drawing one last deep breath, he stepped inside.
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