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I wake and I go to the Bathroom and I take a shower and I wash my hair and I brush my teeth and I shave. I keep waiting to get sick, but I don’t. As I walk out of the bathroom, I stop and I stare at the toilet. The toilet has been my friend and my enemy every morning for as long as I can remember. It has been my receptacle, my support, the only thing besides myself that has known the true extent of my sickness. I’m tired of the toilet. I tell the toilet to go fuck itself. I give it the finger and I laugh at it. I leave the Bathroom.

I put on a set of nice, new, clean clothes. I put on my slippers. I go check the Job Board. My new assignment is coffee. I fill an industrial-size steel coffeepot and I turn it on and I make it sure it functions properly. When the coffee is ready, I pour myself a cup. I taste it and it tastes good. Coffee is much easier and more pleasant than the Group Toilets.

I walk to the Dining Hall. I get a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice and I look for a place to eat. I see Leonard sitting with Ed and Ted. I walk to their table and I sit down. Leonard looks at me and he speaks.

I wasn’t sure you’d be here this morning.

I was too tired to go anywhere last night.

Ed speaks.

Where were you going?

To get high.

On what?

Crack and liquor.

Ted speaks.

You a Crackhead?


Me too.

Ed speaks.

That shit’s fucking gross.

Ted looks at Ed.

You’re gross, you big, dumb, steelworking Motherfucker.

I might be big and dumb—

Leonard speaks.

And you’re ugly too.

Ed looks at Leonard and he gives him the finger.

I might be big and dumb and I might be a steelworking, ass-kicking Motherfucker.

Ted laughs. Ed continues.

But I ain’t dumb enough to have ever smoked that bullshit, Ghetto drug.

Ted speaks.

Yeah, you so smart you sit around a fucking Steel Mill drinking vodka and handling tubs of molten metal.

I ain’t never had an accident.

What about your hair?

That wasn’t no accident, that was a fight. I got sucker punched.

Ed is, as he always is, wearing a bandana on his head. I speak.

What happened to your hair?


Leonard speaks.

He doesn’t wear that silly bandana because he likes it.

What happened?


Ted speaks.

You can tell him or I’m telling him.

You ain’t saying nothing.

I will if you don’t.

Ed looks at me, speaks.

I was doing this married lady. One night we’re in a bar and her husband walks in. We decide to go outside and as I’m walking out, he cracks me over the head with a bottle. I go down and he kicks my nuts. Now I’m really down. He leans over and grabs my hair right here.

He makes a grabbing motion on the top of his forehead.

And he knows when he grabs that shit that I had plugs put in nine months earlier, and he fucking pulls and pulls till he pulls the Motherfuckers right the fuck out. Now my head’s all fucked up and scarred and shit.

I wince.


Ted speaks.

Ask him how he got that Bastard back.

Ed speaks.

Shut the fuck up, Ted.

Tell him you got him back.

I’m gonna kick your ass in a minute.

Ted looks at me.

He didn’t do nothing. Let some Motherfucker pull his goddamn hair plugs right the fuck out of his head and he didn’t do nothing to him. I’d a shot that Motherfucker’s dick off and served it to his Momma on a sandwich.

Breakfast is the blink of an eye. I sit and listen to Ed and Ted fight and tell stories and I laugh as Leonard eggs them on.

Ed is a Drinker and a fighter who’s in Rehab for the fourth time. His Union, which has generous medical benefits, has paid for each of his trips. They sent him here because this is the last time they will pay for him to go to Rehab and they want to give him the best opportunity that they can to get better. He is grateful and says if they can’t fix me at this place then I guess I’m fucked. Ed is not married, but he has four children, all of which are boys. He says that all of them are ass-kicking Motherfuckers, just like himself. He says that they are the great love of his life.

Ted is a Drug Dealer and a Car Thief who was recently arrested for the Statutory Rape of a Sheriff’s Daughter in Louisiana. He already has two Felony convictions and a third means Life-No-Parole under the Three-Strike Law. He skipped Bail and he came here to try to clean up in order to win some points with the Authorities since the Authorities generally look kindly on individuals who have gone through Treatment. He paid for it with money that he made selling crack. He’s not married and he doesn’t have any Kids, but he does, as he says, have a whole mess of fine-ass Bitches.

Ed and Ted are good men who happen to be bad men and I like them and I can relate to them. Although we come from three parts of the country, are three different ages, and have distinctly different problems, we are, in many ways, the same. Alcoholics. Drug Addicts. Criminals.

I finish breakfast and I walk to the Lecture and I sit and I listen to a Nurse talk about the effects drugs and alcohol have on the health of the liver and it strikes close to home and when I can’t listen to any more of it, I watch Leonard as he throws pennies at the Bald Man’s bald spot. He hits the spot about every third time.

The Lecture ends and I get up and as I walk out of the Lecture Hall, I see Joanne standing to the side of the door. She motions for me to come to her and I do.

Hi, James. You remember me?


What’s my name?


She smiles.

You mind coming to my Office for a while?

All right.

We walk through the maze of Halls and we stop at a door. The door has a sign that reads Joanne P., 312. Joanne opens the door and we walk inside.

The walls are covered with pictures of baseball players, newspaper clippings related to the Chicago Cubs, pictures of Joanne riding horses and standing on mountaintops, a degree from Harvard, a degree from Northwestern, and two large taxidermied fish. There is a desk cluttered with papers, a bookshelf overflowing with books. There are two large comfortable-looking chairs along one wall, there is a worn couch along another wall. A stuffed duck sits in one of the corners.

You can sit on the couch or the chair. Wherever you please.

I sit on the chair. She walks around the desk and she sits down and she pushes an ashtray toward me.

I’m allowed to smoke in here?

I’m going to. You want some coffee?


How do you take it?


She turns around and she reaches for a coffeepot and she pours two cups of coffee. I light a cigarette. She turns back around and she hands me one of the cups.

Thank you.

Be careful, it’s strong.

I like strong.

She laughs, lights a smoke.

You know why you’re here?

You wanna talk to me about something.

We have the results of the psych test you took last week. I want to go over them with you.


Do you have any questions before we start?


She reaches for a file, opens it.

The test you took is called the MMPI-2, which stands for the Second Edition of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. It’s an empirically based assessment of Adult Psychopathology used by Clinicians to assist with the diagnosis of mental disorders and the selection of appropriate treatment. It can also provide Clinicians or appropriate Interpretive Personnel with a general psychological assessment of any given individual.

She takes a drag of her smoke.

You with me?


She exhales.

It is used in Schools, Offices, Clinics, Hospitals, Courts, Prisons, in the Military, and by such esteemed organizations as the NSA, the FBI and the CIA. It is a standardized and widely used test and is generally considered the best universal diagnostic tool currently available.

She takes another drag.

Any questions?

Why Minnesota?

She exhales.

It was written and developed by a couple of Professors at the University of Minnesota. It’s also published by the University of Minnesota Press.

What’d it tell you?

You’re depressed. You have very low self-esteem. You’re confrontational and tend to be aggressive, you sometimes react to confrontation with violence. You engage in self-defeating behaviors, you have a low tolerance for frustration, you internalize stress and deal with it through a process of self-destruction. You’re irresponsible, resentful, manipulative, hostile and have a psychological predisposition to addiction.

I laugh.

It’s not funny, James.

Keep going.

This is not a joke.

It’s easier to laugh. Now keep going.

She looks down at the file.

You are also very, very angry. Incredibly angry.

She looks at me.

You are also very intelligent.

I take a sip of my coffee.

Sounds about right.

Does it?

Except for the intelligence part.

Why do you say that?

If I was very intelligent, I probably wouldn’t be so fucked up.

Addicts, as a group, generally score far above average on intelligence tests.


You tell me.

I guess maybe we’re smart enough to have figured out how shitty things are and we decide addiction is the only way to deal with it.

You acknowledge that you’re an Addict.

I laugh again.


I wasn’t sure you would.

I do.

Good, that’s the first step toward getting better.

If it’s one of the Twelve, then it’s the only one I’m taking.

You’re getting angry.



Right now I’m getting angry thinking about the impossibility of ever getting better.

Is that all you’re angry about?


What else?

Pretty much fucking everything.

She laughs.


I smile.

Sounds stupid, but it’s true. I’m angry about pretty much everything.

How long have you felt that way?


As a Child?

My first memories are of anger and pain.

That’s too bad.

It’s the way things are.

I think if we can work toward finding the source of your anger we’ll be a long ways toward solving a number of your issues. The only way to get to your anger is to control your addictions, and the only way, I truly believe, you’ll be able to control your addictions, is by working the Twelve Steps.

Not happening.

She takes a deep breath, leans back. I light another cigarette.

Do you know the success rate of this Hospital?


It’s about seventeen percent. That’s of Patients who are sober for a year after they leave here.

That sucks.

That’s the best success rate of any Treatment Center in the World.

That really sucks.

I’ve worked in six, I’m an Alcoholic and an Addict myself, and the only thing I’ve ever seen that works is the Twelve Steps.

You don’t seem like an Alcoholic or an Addict.

Everyone that works here is, even the Janitors and the Dishwashers. That way if you need help, everywhere you turn there are people who can help you.

That’s comforting.

It’s supposed to be.

How long have you been sober?

Sixteen years.

Long time.

You can have that too, you just have to do what we tell you and trust us, even if you think it’s ridiculous.

If it involves the number Twelve, it’s not gonna happen.

It’s the only way, James. The only way.

I’m gonna be honest with you about something.

I would appreciate that.

I walked out of here two nights ago.

Where were you going?

I was gonna go find some shit and kill myself.

Why didn’t you?

You know Leonard?

I know of him.

Leonard stopped me.

That surprises me.


That’s a separate issue.


We’ll talk about it some other time.

There might not be another time.

You’re serious?


Do you really want to die?

I know I can’t keep living the way I’ve been living and I know I won’t ever believe in the Twelve Steps. People like you keep saying it’s the only way, so I’m thinking that I might as well just put myself out of my misery now and save myself and my Family the pain of the future.

Do you really want to die?

I fucking hate myself. I’m sick of it.

Why are you still here ?

I promised Leonard I’d stay for twenty-four hours. Then my Brother and a couple of old friends showed up for visiting hours. I ended up having a good day, the best day I can really remember having for a long time, and when the twenty-four hours were up, I was too tired and too happy to think about killing myself.

You can have more days like that.

Not if I can’t stay sober.

You can stay sober.

Not if your way is the only way.

It is, and you can do it.

I shake my head.


She leans back in her chair and she lights another cigarette and she stares at me. I stare back. She speaks.

You have two decisions to make, James. The first is whether you want to live, and I believe you do. I believe that deep inside of you, you realize what a horrible waste it would be to kill yourself. I believe that what you present to the World and what you are on the inside are two different things, and that you know that what you are on the inside is something that’s worth saving. The second decision is whether you’re willing to do what it takes, and what we tell you it takes, to get sober. You need to decide whether you’re going to stop being stubborn, and whether you’re willing to open your mind to something that you really don’t know anything about. Take your time and think. As we both know, you are a very intelligent young man. If you have any questions, come see me. If you decide the answer to your decisions is yes, come see me. If your answer is no, I’m sorry, and good luck to you.

She stares at me, I stare back.

I have a question.


Why didn’t you guys throw me out of here after I attacked Roy?

She takes a drag.

Lincoln and Ken wanted to throw you out. I hadn’t met you, but I’m good friends with Hank. When Hank heard what had happened he came to me and told me that the person who attacked Roy was not the person he knew. He said the person he knew was kind and gentle and quiet and shy and was the strongest and bravest person he’d ever seen. I trust Hank, and I fought to keep you here because he told me I should.

I like Hank.

He likes you.

You’re friends?

We hunt and fish together, play cards. He’s sort of my Boyfriend.

I laugh.

Tell him I said hi and that I’m taking good care of his coat.

He’ll be glad to hear it.

We done?

I hope not.

I stand.

We’ll see.

She stands, hands me a card.

That has my Home phone number on it. If I’m not here and you need me, call.

What if you’re at Hank’s House?

He sleeps at my House.

I laugh.


I walk to the door and I walk out and I close the door behind me. I walk through the bright Halls and back to the Unit. As I enter the Upper Level, I see most of the men have gathered on the Lower Level. They are sitting on the couches and the chairs and the Bald Man is sitting on a chair in front of them. He’s speaking, and Lincoln is standing off to the side watching him. I walk down and I sit on the floor. I am near enough to hear, but far enough away so that I’m still alone.

My worst experience, and the one that I want to share with you, was the one that made me finally decide to come here.

He looks down, takes a deep breath.

I’m from Toledo. Two years ago on Halloween, a little girl in our neighborhood was kidnapped and killed by a man in a lion costume. It really shook everyone up, so to try and prevent it, our Neighborhood Council moved Halloween to October first, the thinking being that we could control things more and prevent another tragedy. My two little Girls, Laura, who is six, and Jennifer, who is nine, love Halloween. They’re real dramatic Kids and Halloween is their favorite Holiday, and every year they both get dressed up like Princess Leah and I get dressed up like Luke Skywalker. I put them in the back of a wagon and I pull them from House to House and we pretend that they’re riding in the Millennium Falcon and that I’m piloting it.

He stops and he looks at Lincoln. Lincoln nods and he holds up a fist as a sign of strength. The Bald Man returns the nod and he looks back at us.

A couple months ago, I made a deal with my Wife, whose name is Terry, to stop drinking. Part of the deal was that I could drink nonalcoholic beer when I really felt like I needed something. Being me, I went out and bought twenty cases of the stuff, hid nineteen of them, and kept one in the Garage refrigerator. I have trouble sleeping, and I can’t sleep without drinking, but I found if I drank fifteen nonalcoholics a night, I got enough in me to put me to sleep.

He takes a deep breath.

So every night for six weeks I ran out to the Garage during commercial breaks on the TV and I slammed nonalcoholic beers so I could sleep. It sounds dumb, but you do what you do, and you do what you need to do, and that’s what I did.

A couple of men laugh. Lincoln gives them a hard look. They stop.

The problem with my plan was that because I was drinking fake beer every night, I never stopped wanting to drink real beer, and if anything, the fake stuff made me want to drink the real stuff even more.

He stops, looks at the floor. As he speaks, his voice cracks.

Now it starts getting tough.

Lincoln speaks.

You’re doing great. Just keep going.

The Bald Man looks at him, nods, and looks back at us.

So my Wife had to go to New Jersey for her niece Tina’s Bat Mitzvah. We would normally go to something like that as a Family, but the Bat Mitzvah was on the morning after our Neighborhood Halloween, so me and Terry decided that I would stay home and do Halloween with the girls and Terry would go to Tina’s Bat Mitzvah.

A tear starts running down his cheek.

I took Terry to the Airport and I promised her I wouldn’t drink. As soon as she was on the Plane, I went straight to the Airport Lounge and I ordered a vodka and cranberry.

He stops, wipes his face.

From there I went to the Liquor Store and bought a fifth and some more cranberry and I drank the whole way Home.

He wipes his face.

Then I snuck into my neighbor Ira’s Garage and stole two bottles of chardonnay and another bottle of vodka and I went down to my basement and I drank both bottles of the chardonnay.

The tears are running.

Then I got dressed up as Luke Skywalker and I mixed the vodka and some more cranberry into a giant Obi Wan Kenobi mug and went out with the Girls. They knew something was wrong with me, but they tried to have fun.

He wipes again.

I don’t know when, but at some point I passed out in the wagon while the Girls were up at someone’s door.

He sobs.

They came back and tried to pull the wagon back to our House, but they’re little Girls, and I was too heavy.


They went to our neighbor Len’s House to get help, and when they came back with Len and his wife Ginny, they found that I had peed all over my Skywalker costume and all over the wagon.


Len tried to wake me, and when he did, I attacked him. You see, Len has a big, thick, blond beard, and I was so drunk that I thought he was the man in the Lion costume from two years earlier.


Oh, God.


Oh, God.

He stops, wipes his face, takes a deep breath. The men spread around the Room are speechless. He looks up.

Len had to tie me up with a dog leash to control me and my Wife had to come home from New Jersey before Tina’s Bat Mitzvah.

He starts bawling.

I disgraced myself, my Daughters, my Wife.

There are several chuckles.

I’m the laughingstock of the whole Neighborhood.

He completely breaks down, wailing, sobbing, holding his face in his hands. Several men start laughing. Lincoln looks at them, speaks.

Shut up.

The men laugh harder, more join in. The Bald Man looks up. Lincoln speaks.

This is not funny.

They laugh harder. More join in. The Bald Man is stunned. Lincoln speaks, his voice louder, his voice harder.

This is not funny.

The Room erupts. The Bald Man stands and he runs, wailing, sobbing and crying, from the Room. Lincoln steps in front of the empty chair.

You people think that was funny?

The men laugh.

It wasn’t.

They begin to quiet down.

That was a man spilling his heart to you. Spilling his goddamn heart.

There is quiet.

Opening up and telling you about the worst moment of his life, the moment he hit bottom and knew he needed help.


That’s a hard thing to do, and he’s a brave man for doing it, and he deserves to be given respect, not to be fucking laughed at.

Lincoln shakes his head, lowers his voice.

You think you’re all hard-asses because maybe you took harder drugs than him or drank more than him or maybe your bottom was lower than his, but when I asked for a Volunteer to talk about bottoming out, I didn’t see any of you step up. You just sat there like scared little Boys.

He points in the direction of the Bald Man’s departure.

You should learn from that man, and you should learn from what he did up here today. He was brave and he was open and he was honest and he made himself vulnerable to everyone in this Room. That’s what being here is all about, and that’s the kind of attitude that is gonna keep him sober.

He starts to walk out.

Think about it. Think long and hard.

He stares as he does.

Long and hard.

He leaves. There is complete silence. The men look at one another, ashamed and embarrassed, waiting for someone to speak. Leonard stands.

Lincoln’s right, and we should apologize to the little guy, but I still think that story was fucking funny.

Everyone laughs. Leonard stands, looks at his watch.

It’s lunchtime. I’m going to eat.

He leaves and the men stand and begin filing out and heading to the Dining Hall. I stand and I follow them and I get in a line and I get a tray of food. I sit down and I listen to Ed and Ted argue and I laugh as Leonard eggs them on and I finish and I get up and I put my tray on the conveyor belt.

I go to the Lecture. A Priest talks about different forms of confession. I don’t like Priests, don’t trust Priests, and I don’t listen to a single word of what he has to say. I sit and I stare at the floor and I think about the Bald Man. I wonder where he is and what he’s thinking, and as I replay his story in my mind, it becomes more and more devastating. Although he wasn’t on Skid Row or in a Ghetto or in a Crackhouse, and although he still has a job and a Family and a life, he lost the most important thing a human being can lose, which was his dignity.

I know a bit about the loss of dignity. I know that when you take away a man’s dignity there is a hole, a deep black hole filled with despair, humiliation and self-hatred, filled with emptiness, shame and disgrace, filled with loss and isolation and Hell. It’s a deep, dark, horrible fucking hole, and that hole is where people like me live our sad-ass, fucked-up, dignity-free, inhuman lives, and where we die, alone, miserable, wasted and forgotten.

The Lecture ends and I leave and I go back to the Unit and I sit through an exercise on Rational Reaction Therapy. Ken leads it and explains that Alcoholics and Addicts tend to react irrationally in situations involving stress. Rational Reaction Therapy is a method of decision making to counteract that irrational behavior. When you’re in a situation, consider all options. Take your time, stay calm, choose the option that is the most healthy and productive. It is a very rational philosophy.

After the exercise there is another Graduation Ceremony. Three men I don’t know are leaving. They have done their time and they have worked their Programs and they are ready to face the outside World. They are happy as they receive their Rocks and their Medals, two of them cry when they give their speeches.

The Ceremony ends and everyone claps and some of the men start playing cards and some of them start watching television and some of them get changed and go to the Gym on the other side of the Clinic. The Graduates leave. I go to my Room and I put on Hank’s jacket and I go outside.

There is no Sun. The life that showed itself yesterday has retreated. The ground is cold and hard, the air oppressive, the Sky black, the trees bent beneath the weight of frozen branches. I walk and I smoke and I find a Trail and I let the Trail lead me. It is dark and quiet beneath the canopy of dense, heavy wood, and the only sound is that of my feet forging through piles of crackled yellow leaves.

I listen to the leaves. I stare at the ground. I try to lose myself. I try to forget where I am and why I’m here, I try to forget about what lies in front of me. I try to forget about death, Prison and recovery. I try to forget that there is a World outside of that which is in my head and I try to forget that there is a World within my head. I try to forget everything. The whole fucking mess.

I walk, stare, try to lose, try to lose, try to lose. The crack of leaves fades into a sharp tumbling roll of small stones and the stones lead me to a long, narrow Lake covered with delicate sheets of thin, fractured ice. I stare at the sheets. In the shallows beneath, packs of small fish dance, solitary weeds lie still, algae clings to whatever it can find. A shell sits lonely and silent and I stop and I watch it. Somewhere within there is life. At some point life will shed its shell and reemerge. I stare at the shell in the shallows beneath a delicate sheet of fractures. Life reemerging. I want to forget, but I can’t.

I walk again, continue to try, continue continue. The shore drifts into a wide stretch of tall, dead, yellow grass and my feet become silent on an artery of hard, black, packed dirt. As they carry me through the grass, I run my hands along the sharp frozen tips of the grass and they tickle me and I laugh and the sound of my laughter calms me. Forget, lose, forget, please lose. It tickles me and I laugh.

The packed dirt graduates to bog and I step onto an Elevated Walk of faded pine, imbedded screws and tall, firm Rails. The deep stench of Swamp seeps up and through, too strong to be killed by the cold. As I walk, I lean over the Rail and I breathe in stench and I stare across a murky, brown desolation dotted with rotting chunks of tree, turf and prickly gray shrub. There is an Island among the rot, a large, round Pile with monstrous protrusions like the arms of a Witch. There is chatter beneath the Pile and a fat brown otter with a flat, armored tail climbs atop and he stares at me.

Hey, Fat Otter.

He stares at me.

You want what I got?

He stares at me.

I’ll give you everything.

Stares at me.

Gimme your Pile and gimme your tail.


And I’ll give you the whole fucking mess.


What do you think?

He sits and he stares, seems to consider, and he disappears back under the Pile. I wait for him to come back, but he doesn’t.

You’re a smart otter. A smart fucking otter.

I laugh and I let go of the Rail and I continue to walk. The Pine crescendos and it takes me down and leads me to a path of stone and the stone rings another small Lake and I try to look through the ice but there are no fractures and the ice is too thick. If there is life it is hidden beneath a cold, frozen shell.

I think and I forget and my feet carry me through heavier Wood. The air is black and the leaves are thicker and the crackle is hypnotic and though my eyes are open, I don’t see anything. I just walk.

I come out of the Wood and the darkness, but not out of my head. There is a brown grass Hill ahead of me I climb to the top the view shows me the Buildings and the benches and the Lake. It shows me moving shadows created by the lights of the bright, clean, uncomfortable Halls. I sit down and the brown grass is wet and I’m not bothered by it and my eyes drift to the screams coming from behind the dark, barred windows of the Medical Unit. The screams soak in and they echo, echo, echo and I lie back and the jacket gets wet and the back of my head gets wet and I close my eyes and I listen and I think. I allow myself to feel to feel completely and the feeling brings lucid, linear streams of thought and image and they run through and out and back and through and out and back. They run through and out and back they run.

Can’t stop.

Have to stop.

Can’t stop.




Fuck God.


Fuck her.




Can’t stop.


Take it.


Murderous rage.



Sins unpardonable.

Places from which there is no return.

Damage irreparable.















Get better.




Fuck God.

Fuck her.

Fuck you.








Bring it.

Take it.

Take it.


The streams are lucid and clear and they run back and through and back and through and they meet and they lose empty forget and there is is is something something something I hardly know perfect calm. Clarity. Serenity. Peace.

My urges are gone. My heart is beating slow and steady. Everything I know and I am and I have seen felt done past present past now then before now seen felt done hurt felt focus into a something beyond words beyond beyond beyond and it speaks now and it says.




Take it.





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