"My name is David and I'm a chocoholic."
The group delivered the reply in unison, "Hi David." It was a response they delivered three times a week at St. John's Church on Amsterdam. David and his fellow chocolate addicts met in the church's basement, a room whose utility was expressed on a weary chalkboard, where the names of the Saints bled through the tagging of teenagers sentenced here for breaches of Church Canon; iPod listening during the sermon, gumming the pews or inappropriate laughing, which is to say, all laughing. On Friday night, the basement belonged to the 'Almond Joy' meeting of Chocoholics Anonymous. The basement was filled to capacity as it usually was on Friday, the 'Devil's Day' of the week -- when chocolate temptation is in boundless supply.
David recited the obligatory "Thank you, it's good to see so many returning faces and some new ones as well."
A young woman with a mane of long dark hair sat in the newcomer's chair at the rear of the room. Regulars dubbed it 'The ejection seat,' the chair of choice for first timers, in attendance by coercion or desperation, and likely to bolt from the small damp basement at some point during the meeting. Their reason for leaving, often whispered loud enough to be an announcement, was usually "I'm not like this, I'm not one of you."
David began his story. "I never thought chocolate could be a problem in my life. I didn't believe it until the minute I walked into this room." The group responded with utterances of concurrence, the 'Amens' of the sect. David continued. "This group is for people whose lives have become overcome by chocolate just as sure as if from alcohol, which is another of my failings and many of you know me from our Tuesday and Thursday night AA meetings in the Village Community School." Another set of nods and affirmations. "Like most newcomers, I believed those AA rooms were not for me, I drank occasionally, no more then six or seven drinks a week. The AA rooms were for people like Günter, from the 'Westside' meeting. That's where I heard Günter tell the story of the last few minutes of his life as an unregulated drunk."
The 'Günter story' was part of AA scripture, gospel told here in the church basement, the meeting at the Village School and no doubt in a thousand other rooms in half the counties of the world. The dark-haired woman in the ejection seat had never heard Günter's story; David was attracted by this virginity as well as by her face, which appeared to be lit by the moon even under the basement's green florescent light. She was deciding if she should bolt, she wasn't like them. David was determined not to lose her.
He realigned his body as if a featured stage actor a moment before his entrance. He began with bravura, "What brought me to AA was Günter. Günter was a German sculptor living in Williamsburg. I met him one night crossing Prospect Park on my way home from work. It was my mother-in-law's birthday and I had promised my wife I'd be home in time to help. Günter was sitting on a bench drinking with a group of five or six companions. As I passed this convivial group, Günter invited me to join them and held out a nearly empty bottle of Colt 45 Malt." David spoke with a confidence earned from dozens of corporate meetings he had led. He went on with his tale. "I checked the time and calculated there were 20 minutes to spare before I was expected home. I must have had more then one drink as I woke up in the morning on a brown patch of grass with the summer sun scalding my face."
His shoes, he told them, were gone as were the three twenty-dollar bills he kept in his wallet. He had a fuzzy memory of visiting a convenience store with his comrades and leaving with a few cases of beer. That's all he remembered about the night of his mother in law's birthday party.
Günter, like David, woke in the park with vague memories of the previously night's activities. wobbled back to his apartment intending to pass out in bed. The trouble was that the bed was already occupied by his girlfriend and best friend and neighbor, Adam. Neither had noticed when Günter entered the room nor when he left.
Günter owned a small, red Suzuki motorcycle. Instead of investing in an expensive chain lock, he kept the motorcycle parked in his living room. He removed the chrome gas cap and lifted it as if were a newborn calf. He began to shake it, bringing forth ribbons of gasoline that wrapped around his neck and chest, a contestant in a wet T- Shirt contest played with 98 octane gas. Günter withdrew a pack of matches from his cigarette pack and held them in the envelope of his hand. He heard the bed banging against the bedroom wall and ripped a match from the book.
"There must have been a moment of reflection, for later he was able to recall his last thought before everything became a ferocious roar inside a dazzling flame." When he got to this part of the story he paused, studied an imaginary spot on the floor and then began again. " Günter said, 'I knew I had made a mistake the second I lit the match.'
"After he left the hospital, he found the Westside AA and never stopped coming back." David said quietly, "I came to my first AA meeting by order of the court, but after I heard Günter tell his story, I never stopped coming back, either."
Spontaneous applause, whistles and catch phases of support came forth. When it receded, David continued. "So I came to see that the rooms of AA were, indeed, for me, but never, never did I think this could be true for the rooms of Chocoholics Anonymous as well. I loved chocolate, but only 6 times a week." The group laughed and David raised his eyes to the back of the room to see if she was still there, if she heard the laughter he had elicited. She was still there. She was looking at him with a devious smile.
David proceeded with his familiar account of the ravages set upon him by his inability to control his love of chocolate. The pockets of his expensive suits stained brown with the chocolate of forgotten Hershey's kisses, the destruction of his teeth, his four-digit triglyceride levels, culminating in a two-hour gorge on the Godiva chocolates he had stolen from secretaries, the gifts of management on Valentines Day. He was fired. His wife, having stood fast during David's drinking, jumped ship and then his doctor delivered the news that he was pre-diabetic. He came to admit that he was powerless over his love for chocolate and that he "Belonged in CA as much as in AA. I was like them. These were my rooms, too." He thanked the group and sat down. He turned his head to the back of the room. She was gone, she had bolted. These rooms were not for her.
He attended every meeting of both of his groups for a week hoping to see her again. The first-timer chairs were always occupied but she was never sitting there. He was finding it difficult to stay in the moment during the meetings. Sometimes he forgot to applaud when he should. He tried to conjure up more images of her face as those in his mind's eye began to dim. Soon she was just moonlight. He was becoming as obsessed with her as he had once been with alcohol and chocolate. These things could be had on any street of this or any other city of the world. She was scarce. She was practically non-existent.
The Friday 'Almond Joy' meeting was, as usual, well attended. He arrived late and had to sit towards the back of the room instead of his prominent chair close to the podium. The meeting's leader had quieted the group and had began his preliminary words when David felt the warmth of a body sweeping in from behind his back. He felt a chill and knew it was the woman with the moonlight in her long dark hair. He could hear her body adjusting to the hard wooden seat, searching for a sustainable, if not comfortable position. When the speaker was introduced, David responded with a fervent, "Hi Bob" and tried to hear his tale of chocolate woe above the sound of her chest rising against the fabric of her blouse.
The time to turn around and look at her had past. Why hadn't he done this when she first arrived? Now he had to sit with his back to her face. He imagined her legs wrapping around him from behind, her breath like warm water falling down his neck. The meeting was now soundless; he saw the others applaud but heard nothing. He tried to fight his way back into their realm but it was useless. He turned and looked into her face. She rose from her chair. She left and he followed her outside.
Neither had said a word. Once out in the night, she pushed up against him and put her lips around his mouth. There was a gap between the outer wall of the church and the adjacent building. Tearing at their clothes they wrestled each other into the dark crevice. He braced against the brick wall and pushed hard. She was a snake curling up a branch. He closed his eyes and imagined her body laced in strands of dark chocolate. When it was over, she pulled up her clothes and whipped her hair into place. It brushed his face leaving soft stings behind. She gave him a meaningless kiss on the cheek and stumbled out on her high heels without looking back.
In the following weeks he looked for her at every meeting, waiting outside the door until he could hear the opening remarks. He'd go inside but his concentration went in and out. He was now a permanent dweller of the back row seats. Then he stopping going inside at all. He walked the streets, sometimes believing he saw her crossing a street or on a passing bus. He wanted to drink. He wanted chocolate, even a Milky Way or a Three Musketeers would do, it didn't have to be Godiva. He remembered Günter. This must be how he felt before he lit the match.
He ate chocolate and drank for a month. He had to be hospitalized with complications stemming from diabetes. He cleaned up in the hospital and came out determined to regain his freedom from the twin pillars of his destruction. He began attending five meetings a week. He read about a new meeting for people co addicted to both alcohol and chocolate that was to be held in a downtown high school. He decided to attend the first meeting.
There were dozens of classrooms on the high school's third floor, several with opened doors. Voices in groups were commingling in the long green hallway.
He stuck his head into one and then another in search of his meeting. He ducked into a classroom where a meeting had already begun. He wasn't sure if this was his or not. He looked to the podium. He saw her. She was standing behind it ready to speak. He was in a free fall, his blood plunging down his body.
"Hi" she said. "I'm Holly and I'm a sexoholic." The group responded in perfect union, "Hi Holly." He saw an open seat, the newcomer's chair. He thought about sitting down. Maybe he could catch her eye and she'd remember, but hell, half the guys in the group were probably thinking the same thing. He stepped back into the hallway and heard a voice declare, "Hi I'm Chuck, I'm co-addicted to chocolate and alcohol." He made it into the room in time to join the chorus of "Hi Chuck." He took a seat as far forward as possible.