"I'm not ready," I tell my counselor. I am sitting in her office, and it is so comforting, so familiar now. I have been at the rehab center for 31 days. My husband and kids will be here any minute to pick me up. I'm sitting in her office, wiping tears away, my dented suitcase sits dejectedly at my feet. "I'm terrified."
"I'm glad to hear it," she says, peering at me over her glasses. "That means it's time to go."
"How does that make sense?" I ask.
"If you're scared, it means that you understand that left to your own resources, you'll probably drink. That's a big step. It means you have surrendered," she replies.
I press my face into my hands.
"So you'll go to a meeting tonight? You'll raise your hand and ask for help?"
I nod. Tonight is a million years away. I can't bear to think about it.
There is a soft knock at the door, and the assistant director pokes her head in. "They're here," she says.
I look up at my counselor, my eyes pleading. I want her to tell me I don't have to go. She smiles.
"Go hug your kids," she says. "Good luck."
I stand up and grab my suitcase. "Thank you," I say. The words feel so small.
I take a deep breath, and step out of her office. I peer down a long corridor, and see my husband standing at the other end. He's holding Finn, who looks impossibly big. Greta is shuffling her feet, staring at the floor. I clear my throat, and she looks up. "MAMA!" she screams, and runs down the hall towards me, her arms flung open wide, her hair in little pink barrettes. I wonder if Steve has mastered barrettes while I have been gone, or if she has learned to put them in herself, and my heart bursts into a thousand pieces.
I kneel and wrap my arms tightly around her little shoulders. She buries her face in my shirt. We rock for a minute, clinging to each other.
Steve and Finn approach more slowly. Finn is looking at me uncertainly. He is almost two, just starting to talk. He gives me a shy smile and rests his head on Steve's shoulder.
I finally make eye contact with Steve, and my stomach flips. I have no idea what to say, where to begin. "Thanks for picking me up," I say softly. He looks at me, a thousand unspoken words flying between us, and then nods his head, once.
Finn reaches out for me, and I pull him into my arms. "Hey, big guy," I say, fighting back tears. I'm here, I think to myself. Mama's finally here.
We stand there quietly for a moment, the four of us. The four of us. I push back a wave of guilt so powerful my throat closes and my hands start to shake.
Steve pushes open the door and we step outside into the bright sunshine. Greta is chatting away at my feet, something about a stuffed animal. I'm still holding Finn, who is silent and clutching my shirt with his little fists. My heart is pounding. I want to scream, cry, beg for forgiveness.
"I missed you guys," I say instead.
"Are you all better now?" Greta asks, looking up at me.
I glance at Steve, and he looks away. "Yes, honey, I'm all better now," I choke, hoping with all my heart that this isn't a lie.
"Good," she says, firmly. "Can we play a game when we get home? We have a new game! We got it while you were at the hopspital." She can't say hospital correctly, and I feel another wave of shame. She had to learn that word because of me, I think.
And there we are, stumbling across the hot parking lot, this little family that has endured so much in the past months. Because of me. Because I'm an alcoholic. An alcoholic in recovery, I correct myself.
Steve buckles Finn into his car seat, and I make a mental note of how quickly he can do that now. I click Greta's seat belt into place, around a new booster seat, one I haven't seen before. There is so much I don't know about, so much to learn. And re-learn.
Steve and I slide into the front seats, and shut the car doors. He sighs, and looks at me. "Well, here we go," he says.
"Let's go HOME!" Greta shouts.
Home, I think. God help me, let's go home.