“L-L-L-L-Let’s just get going,” I told the others, my teeth chattering between every couple of words, “before I freeze to death.” They laughed, and you might say the “ice was broken.” “W.W.B.D!” I rallied. “We won’t be denied!”
We walked into Gerry’s house and were hit with a thick, musty wall of cigarette smoke that enveloped the whole house in a musty dinginess. Everything had a distinctly unsavory feel to it; I had a hard time breathing, but I could not tell if it was the smoke or the very atmosphere that made me nervous.
Gerry was sitting on the floor, straight-backed and Indian-style. He smoked calmly, but with an eerie presence, as if he had secret forces he could summon from beneath the floor or in the walls, if need be. He listened silently but with detachment, as if experiencing a dejà vu. He had expected this. Not today, but somehow, he seemed to have known this moment would come. He listened to everyone—his parents, sister Cindy, his college friend Larry, his boss and cousin and me—and he agreed with the idea of treatment, but had a lot of things that would need to be worked out before he could actually go.
The parents spoke from their hearts, and everyone could feel the love for Gerry, even though they had difficulty in speaking out. Once, when Gerry turned sharply at something his father mentioned, Lisa, his mother, broke down and sobbed, fearful of imminent violence. But Gerry resumed his posture and returned to his trance-like mode.
“I have to finish the Ximeter Project at work and prepare the orientation for the corporate office next month,” Gerry said after one person or another had handled all his other objections. Part of the preparation is anticipating the addict’s objections and assigning people to take care of whatever tasks are necessary.
“It will all be taken care of, Gerry,” his boss said. “I’d like you to consider treatment to be your new assignment. You are a valued employee we depend on for some of our most important work, and we don’t want to lose you. Your condition is affecting your work, and we are ready to support you right now in getting the proper treatment. Your job will be waiting for you.”
Gerry acquiesced. “I want to see my kids first,” he said. They lived only a few miles away so we decided that Cindy and Mark would take him on the way to the airport en route to the treatment center. The parents followed their car to the house where the kids lived, and I watched him squat down and put his big arms around them as they huddled on the sidewalk in private discussion. We then drove to the airport; I remember how peaceful I felt looking through the windshield at the road ahead. The whole scene, road, and fields alike, glistened under the newly-fallen snow that crisp January morning. The storm had passed. Soon they would begin to shovel the roads and get everything circulating again. But for now, all was serene.
Both parents told me how relieved they felt at having participated in the intervention; so much had gone unspoken, unrecognized for so long. Before the meeting, we had taken an informal poll among ourselves, guessing the odds of Gerry going to treatment. They said they saw a forty percent chance that he would go, and only twenty percent that he would stay for the full term—not quite the confidence level I like to have going into an intervention.
“Well, whether he goes or stays or not,” the mother said, “this is the best thing we could have done. We’ve done all that we can, and he now knows how much we care about him. Everything’s out in the open.”
“ It’s up to him now,” Gerry’s father said in agreement.
“Savor the moment, folks,” I advised them as they dropped me off at the airport. “This is a wonderful thing you’ve all done; the future will come soon enough.” I left and checked in my baggage. All the flights were delayed because of the cold and snow, and my plane wasn’t due to leave for three hours, anyway, so I walked over to the gate from which Gerry was leaving. His plane was scheduled to take off in forty-five minutes. I started to panic when there were only twenty minutes before boarding and they hadn’t shown up. What had happened? Did Gerry refuse to get back into the car after he spoke to his kids? The employer was with them—surely he would have been able to carry out the escort, wouldn’t he? The door was opened behind the ticket desk now and the airline called for its first passengers. I kept pacing back and forth, hoping to catch the trio running toward the gate, ticket in hand. The lump in my throat sank to my stomach and settled heavily. I should have ridden with them. Why didn’t I ask the parents to wait and follow them every inch of the way?
“Last call for Flight No. 486 to-” I heard over the loudspeaker. This was it! After all that talk, all the ordeal of the entire preparation and intervention—nothing. He wasn’t even going to make it to the plane! Feeling terribly responsible, I called the parents.
“I don’t want to alarm you, Lisa,” I told his mother, “but I’m at the gate Gerry was supposed to leave from and they haven’t come. The plane is getting ready to take off. I don’t know what’s happening.” We hung up and I remembered the irony of how I had just told them less than an hour ago to savor the moment because you never know how long it would last.
I went back over to the window by the gate. They were de-icing the plane, spraying it with a syrupy, Pepto-Bismol-like substance. I could use something for my own stomach at this point. Just as I turned to go over to my gate area, I saw the three of them rushing to the ticket desk. They were laughing! The stewardess called the pilot and instructed him not to let the jetway tunnel to the door of the plane be extracted just yet, and someone opened the other side and whisked Gerry and Mark onto the plane.
“He wanted to stop for a couple of lunchtime beers,” Cindy informed me. “Said if he was going to go into treatment today and didn’t want to drink on the plane, so he needed a couple of belts before he left. And we went along.”
At last, I could breathe again.
I heard from Cindy a year or so later, and she reported that her brother had stayed for the full four-week treatment and extended it an additional six months, as there were so many issues to deal with. I was glad to be part of the intervention that led Gerry to such dedication toward his own recovery.