This is the story of Bob. Bob was a drunk. The old kind. The kind that’s best friend is named Jack. The kind that’s voice says “when I finish this bottle I will eat the bottle as well, glass and all.” A voice that has hard times in it. That has prison time in it. The kind that postures weather worn and beaten views. That holds anger like a crowbar clutched in their fist and flashes violence like sirens in their eyes. The kind that’s more akin to a cornered dog than human.
I got to know Bob from meetings I was attending. He was an older man with gravel in his voice. And with a way of staring at you that made you feel uncomfortable and small.
He didn’t speak much at meetings. Mostly just sat there and listened. Drinking his coffee. With a constant drip of it in his beard. No one was about to tell him though. He was there every Tuesday night. Right on time. Sitting in the same spot, in the back corner with his back to the wall.
“Bob. Black out whiskey drunk.” Was how he introduced himself every night at the meetings, in-between sips of his coffee.
He had been in and out of prisons most of his life. Not county jails, but prison. Though I’m sure he spent plenty of nights in county as well. He had an ex-wife he wanted to kill and a daughter that treated him as if he was dead. He had been in and out of AA more times than prison and the nurses at the local hospital knew him by name.
Every Tuesday night for months, he sat there and listened and stared that cold stare. People in the meetings were always nice to him with their hellos and hey Bob’s, but they always made sure they gave him a wide girth when he passed.
One Tuesday night we had a guy celebrating his nine months of sobriety. Nine months is a crucial time for alcoholics. The body is starting to recover more and the mind is firing well again. Why is this a bad thing you ask? Because that’s when the alcoholic feels good enough to do more, to be more active. And that’s when they realize that they have nothing to do. They used to spend all their time drinking, or looking for ways to drink before. Now they have nothing. Boredom is a killer for drunks. Full of all this new found energy and confidence, the alcoholic will start to try to go back to their old places and see their old friends. Thinking they now are strong enough and ready, to tip their toes back in the waters. They more often then not, find themselves waking up on a strange floor, piss in their pants, and dried puke in their hair, 3 days later.
There were a handful of people at the meeting that were giving their advice to the fresh faced 9 monther. Do this. Do that. Don’t do this. No matter what, don’t do that.
And then Bob spoke.
And in his harsh voice he said, “When I was at that stage of not knowing what to do with my time and energy. What I did was, went downtown to the hospitals. And sat with patients that have no one. Just ask the nurses at the desk. They know who is dying and who doesn’t have any one there for them. I would just go in their room and sit with them. Just sat there beside their bed. Sometimes they would reach out to hold my hand. But mostly just sat there. Some would tell you their stories, the ones that could still speak. Some would just smile. I did this every night for months. Hitting different rooms in different hospitals every night. Just sitting there with a dying person. Watching over them, while they unknowingly watched over me.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Old hard drinking Bob was an angel. A wasted angel of the night. Silently sitting with the dying. I could hear his heavily worn cowboy boots echoing down empty hospital halls. The sounds of the heart monitors beeping and the breathing machines sighing. I could see Bob sitting there with that intense beaten stare, holding the hands of the dying. Night after night being the boatman that carries the sick into the afterlife. The humanity of this hard living man was incredible. I was moved to near tears from the compassion and strength. I was in awe and inspired. One person, no matter their failures and shortcomings in the past, can make a positive difference in life.
“Did it help you get through your recovery? Sitting with the patients like that,” someone asked.
“Hell no. I’m an alcoholic. I bought a half gallon on the way home and got drunk.”
And that was Bob. The blackout whiskey drunk. The wasted angel of empty hallways and lonely deaths.