I am pleased that though he is exhausted and would have been content to sleep for the night, he is committed to the work of recovery, committed enough to rouse himself, splash his face with water in the bathroom sink, brush his hair out of his eyes with his fingers, throw on a clean T-shirt, and race out of the house so that he will be on time.
It's after eleven and Nic isn't home. I had been so tired, but now I'm wide awake in bed, feeling more and more uneasy. There are a million harmless explanations. Oftentimes, groups of people at AA meetings go out afterward for coffee. Or he could be talking with his new sponsor. I contend with two simultaneous, opposing monologues, one reassuring me that I'm foolish and paranoid, the other certain that something is dreadfully wrong. By now I know that worry is useless, but it shoots in and takes over my body at the touch of a hair trigger. I don't want to assume the worst, but some of the times Nic ignored his curfew, it presaged disaster.
I stare into the dark, my anxiety mounting. It is a pathetically familiar state. I have been waiting for Nic for years. At night, past his curfew, I would wait for the car's grinding engine, when it pulled into the driveway and then went silent. At last—lNic. The shutting car door, footsteps, the front door opening with a click. Despite Nic's attempt at stealth, Brutus, the chocolate Lab, usually yelped a half-hearted bark. Or I would wait for the telephone to ring, never certain if it would be him ("Hey, Pop, how're ya doin'?") or the police ("Mr. Sheff, we have your son"). Whenever he was late or failed to call, I assumed catastrophe. He was dead. Always dead.
But then Nic would arrive home, creeping up the hallway stairs, his hand sliding along the banister. Or the telephone would ring.
"Sorry, Pop, I'm at Richard's house. I fell asleep. I think I'll just crash here rather than drive at this hour. I'll see you in the morning. I love you." I would be furious and relieved, both, because I had already buried him.