His shirt bore the words “I’m on a drinking team with a bowling problem.”
The shirt was funny, he knew it was funny.
As he entered the bowling alley there was something different about him. He rushed past the food counter where he would typically stop and chat with Jess, the cute 20-something girl he had a thing for, he only waved to Brad, the guy who ran the front desk and who he had a ritualistic handshake with, and then went directly to his lane where he sat down in the settee area.
“Not yet,” he said to himself.
He started to type an email to no one so he could act like he was distracted. People would stand near the steps leading down to the lane and wonder what was up with Peter.
This wasn’t typical of Peter. He was the guy who walk out of the bathroom and without pause, each time, yell “DO NOT GO IN THERE!” despite the fact that Ace Ventura came out over 20 years ago.
Still, people enjoyed it and laughed. He had a way of not killing a joke.
Eventually Rich, Craig, and Andy showed up and put their stuff down on the lane. They all patted Pete on the back to let him know they were there.
Peter kept staring at his phone.
He didn’t see the concerned looks on his teammates faces as they all exchanged glances wondering why Peter was so upset.
Craig drew the short straw.
It’s not that Peter was a violent man, he just had a short fuse. The dents in various ball return covers were scars left behind after missed spares or a gutter ball. Loose seats were indicative of teammate mistakes.
When he was in a bad mood he was almost unapproachable, which is why they drew straws.
“Hey man, everything alright?”
Peter took a second to compose himself. Comedic timing was everything. He knew what his mark was and when he had to hit it. The corners of his lips were locked down and made tight like a vise holding a piece of wood being sanded. Any sign of a smile would ruin this moment.
When he jumped up he startled the three men and then he pulled open his jacket and started to laugh. His chest was pushed forward so they could read the message on the shirt.
The three men were emotionless. They all exchanged glances, this time of even more concern.
“You guys don’t find this funny?” Peter said.
“It’s – uh – not that we – uh – don’t find this funny, it’s just…it’s just that we need to talk to you.” Rich took the lead on this one.
Rich was selected like any other good leader would be and was the one who caught the tiger by the toe.
“A lot of people here only see the top of the iceberg when we see what’s under the water. You do, of course, understand what I’m saying, right?”
“C’mon guys, you know this is funny.” Peter was pleading with them, he NEEDED their validation.
“Josh, get down here! Josh knows funny and this is funny.”
Josh arrived with his typical smiling face.
“What’s up?” Josh asked.
Peter quickly turned around and revealed his shirt. Josh hit the ground laughing. He laughed so hard that he couldn’t breathe. He was laughing so hard that his face turned beet red.
Peter was validated by Josh, the other three didn’t find it amusing.
“You need help.” Andy said with a crack in his voice that showed his concern.
“Guys, I don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s just a shirt.”
“Exactly.” Craig chimed in. “Now it’s a shirt. Tomorrow who knows what it will be. I just don’t want to see you go down a road that you can’t recover from.”
“Pete, we’ve known you too long to not care about you. This has become an obsession for you.” Rich said.
“Guys, I just like to make people laugh. Is that so bad?” Peter said with growing concern.
“Is THAT what you think this is about?!” Craig yelled out.
“You guys are just jealous that everyone thinks I’m funny.”
“Stop placing blame for your addiction on us!” Andy was now nose to nose with Peter when he said that. “We were going to talk to you tomorrow when we all went out for wings, but this can’t wait anymore. We know where you go afterwards and it’s sad. Being all alone, it’s not good for you, it’s not good for anyone around you. You’re cowering behind your depression and covering it up, digging a hole that you will never be able to climb out of.”
“I don’t get it guys, I really don’t. So what? So what if I enjoy being alone sometimes? So what if I feel the most alive when I can just think about myself? So what?”
“That’s exactly the problem, Peter. You’re focusing too much on bowling and you’re completely forgetting about our drinking team.” Rich said over Andy’s shoulder.
“Yeah, you don’t even have a beer with you right now.” Craig jumped in.
“All these people out here just see you as a funny guy who bowls, we just want our drinking buddy Peter back. We want the guy who didn’t care about bowling a 160 and missing a 10-pin to lose the game. We want Peter ‘Somebody Stop Me’ back. We just do this for fun.” Andy was still in Peter’s face but started to whimper as he pleaded with him.
“I’m sorry guys, I’ve changed.” Peter said.
“We’ve noticed.” Andy was slowly backing away. “We hate that it has come to this.”
“Alright then. I guess this is goodbye.” Peter said quietly.
“No, don’t go!” Rich said.
Peter turned around with a smile on his face, “so you guys aren’t mad at me?”
“No, we totally are, but this league still needs four people on a team.” Craig said.
Peter had never been happier as he quietly flipped his sobriety chip in the pocket of his jeans between his fingers.