East North Street, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

It’s half—or maybe more accurately, a quarter—of a house.  It’s a nice place, probably a hundred years old.  The floors are hardwood, the walls a standard white drywall, flat paint combo.  It’s in a near-constant state of furniture re-arrangement; like the lives of the two men who live here, the apartment is fluid, grasping, ever on the verge of something.

The day I moved in with Duane was the day I moved back to Pennsylvania from New Jersey.  In my previous life in Pennsylvania, I hadn’t spent much time in this area of Carlisle.  I had visited Duane here a few times, and had always had trouble finding it.  This time, I found it easily, pulling up in my ’83 Ford Escort, with my life jammed into the tiny backseat.  At first, the house actually seems a bit towering and hulking, it’s front porch extending far into the world beyond the front door, and the porch roof arching upwards like the peak of a great barn.  The brown, white, and earth-toned exterior of the house makes it something you can and do easily drive past without noticing, but once you’re familiar with it, it’s comforting, like oatmeal, or sand.

The day I moved in was the most relaxed “move-in” in the history of the world.  Duane acted like I had already been living there forever.  After discussing where our individual “spaces” were, we settled in to just co-existing rather quickly.  I set my coffee maker up immediately.  That night, some old friends came over.  I felt ecstatically at home in these four rooms, with their hardwoods, their flux, their smell of socks.

After a few months, life here had become life, and it moved with an interesting rhythm.  I worked a lot, coming home late at night through the side entrance into our disgusting kitchen, and hibernating with well-deserved sleeps in the sizeable back bedroom I had taken over.  I went to a lot of AA meetings, and voraciously read the AA literature while laying on my twin bed, with my window open during this hot summer of 2003.  Life swam.

I furiously and studiously worked the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and saw from them true change in my life.  It was magical and uplifting. 

The first four steps are easy.  Then you get to Step 5:  “Admitted to a higher power, to ourselves, and to another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.”  This is where we take the “inventory” we made in step four—where we write down every shitty thing we did to our loved ones before and during our addiction—and admit them to whatever Higher Power we’ve chosen to take over our will (this can be, essentially, whatever you want it to be), fully admit it to ourselves, and (the tricky part) somebody else.

Ideally this should be someone else in recovery, but for some reason, I chose my friend Burke.  And I called him immediately after having finished writing down the fourth step—once again, laying on my twin bed, with my window open and a nice breeze blowing, during the hot summer of 2003.  I told him I needed him over there immediately.  Burke, being the great friend he is, was confused, but obliged.

Burke sat in the rickety wooden chair, at the over-varnished decades-old computer desk that Duane had given me, after he found it in the basement.  Instead of a computer, a typewriter sat on it.  I sat on my bed, cross-legged, and read to Burke from my notebook.

I told them I was going to work, but really…


Then I just left her standing there…


I never called back…they had no idea where…


…I just opened his wallet, really…


…screamed, yelled, I have no idea why…


It was hard, but it was also easy.  I’m glad I chose Burke.  He’s guileless, and despite his cynical exterior, there’s not a judgmental bone in his body.  I knew this could be between him and I (and of course, all my loved ones, when I went and admitted to wrongdoings from this list to all of them in the ninth step) and, of course, that room.  That home.  Although I’d never lived there before, it was a homecoming.  The end of something, and the beginning.  Those hardwoods, that drywall, that smell of socks, and great friends like Duane and Burke and everyone else who was around at West North: it was the time of my life.

6 Responses to “East North Street, Carlisle, Pennsylvania”

  1. I love this story. I wish I knew Burke so I could pass along my thanks for helping you. I’m glad I could be there for the ninth step!

    • sethdellinger Says:

      I’ll pass your thanks along to him, Kiwi! I, too, am super-glad I was able to 9th step with you, it was a biggie for sure!

  2. Great story; gave me tears in my eyes.

  3. It was interesting to read this post, see some of the background that I never heard before. Had no idea that Burke was the person you turned too.

    • sethdellinger Says:

      Some other people might seem like a more natural choice, but when I started thinking about it I couldn’t imagine it being with anyone else (don’t tell Burke but I’d eventually do the 5th step again with my sponsor when I got more into AA). I can’t fully explain my choice of Burke but it still seems the most natural choice.

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