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A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: Chapter 11


Sickness drags me from sleep, pushes me out of bed, throws me before my friend and my enemy it throws me before the porcelain. It empties, wracks, hurts, it won’t let go of me.

There are chunks of stomach, bile and remnants of last night’s dinner. There is acid, snot and spit. There is blood. Streams of blood.

I get in the shower and I turn up the heat and I wash the sickness from my face and my body. It gathers around the drain and I crush it with my feet and I make it disappear. I’m sick of being sick. I want it to disappear. I crush it with my feet.

I brush my teeth. The new ones are just like the old ones. I like them and I’m happy to have them.

A white scar is forming in place of the hole in my cheek. Another reminder of the life I live.

I don’t even bother with my eyes.

I get dressed and I make the coffee and I pour myself a cup and I drink it. It’s strong and I get sick again, so I take another shower and I brush my teeth a second time. I don’t even bother with my eyes.

I change and I get another cup of coffee and I walk to breakfast and I get some oatmeal and I cover it with sugar. I sit down at a table with Leonard and Ed and Ted and a short thin black man. I have seen the black man before, though I can’t place him. Leonard speaks.

How ya doing, Kid?

I’m all right.

He motions to the black man.

You meet Matty, yet?

No.

Matty, James. James, Matty.

We reach across the table, shake hands. I say nice to meet you. He says nice to meet you, Motherfucker. I look at him more closely. I speak.

I know you from somewhere.

He speaks. He has a high voice, talks very quickly.

Where the fuck you know me from?

I’m not sure. Where do you live?

Minneapolis.

That’s not it. What’s your last name?

You ain’t supposed to fucking ask me my last fucking name in this fucking place.

It registers. I know where I know him.

You’re last name is Jackson.

How the fuck you know that?

I used to watch you on TV. You were the Featherweight Champion of the World.

He smiles.

I sure as fuck was.

I smile.

And they wouldn’t ever interview you because you swear so much.

They sure as fuck wouldn’t. Cocksucking, motherfucking TV Motherfuckers.

Everyone laughs and breakfast gets pushed aside and we sit and we drink coffee and we talk shit and we laugh. Matty is a wreck, a shell of the man he was two years ago, when he was one of the best boxers in the World. At the time, he held two championships, was rich and famous, married and had two young Boys. At a party celebrating one of his victories, he took a hit from a pipe he was told was full of pot, but was actually loaded with crack. He got hooked immediately, fought one more time and got destroyed, and he disappeared.

It is strange to be sitting across from him. It is strange to imagine that the man I used to watch on TV is the man in front of me. At the height of his career, he was a fighting machine. He was fast, smart, strong and unbeatable at his weight, one hundred and twenty-six pounds. He was handsome, had a big smile, there wasn’t an ounce of fat on his body, and he had dark, smooth flawless skin. His confidence was supreme, and he entered and commanded the Ring as if he owned it.

There is nothing left. He is very small, one hundred and ten pounds at the most, his hair is tangled and nappy, his skin is covered with open sores and his teeth are yellow, brown and black. Though his confidence seems to be intact, I doubt he could find a Boxing Ring, much less command it or render someone unconscious within it. I don’t ask him about his Wife or his Kids because I don’t want to know and he probably doesn’t want to tell me.

The Dining Hall empties. We don’t notice because of Matty and Leonard and our laughter. When one of the Janitors walks over and he tells us to leave, we walk to the Lecture together and Matty talks and he swears and he makes us laugh. When we get to the Lecture, we sit together, away from the rest of the men of our Unit, and before the Speaker begins, Leonard pulls out a deck of cards and we start playing poker. We don’t bet, and except for Matty swearing under his breath, we play silently, signaling each other with hands and our heads.

The Lecture ends and I say good-bye to my friends and I walk through the Halls until I find the door that has Joanne’s name on it. I knock, I hear her say come in, and I open the door and step inside.

She and Hank are sitting on the couch drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Hank rises when he sees me and he gives me a hug.

How ya doing, Kid?

We separate.

I’m good.

Let me see those teeth.

I smile.

They look nice.

I guess so.

Was it worth it?

I survived.

I don’t know how, but I guess you did.

It was worth it.

He laughs, moves toward the door.

Come visit me in the Livery some time.

Where’s the Livery?

It’s the Van sitting in front of the Entrance.

I laugh. He reaches for the door.

You don’t have to leave.

You two probably need to be alone.

I’d like you to stay.

He stops, looks at me, sits next to Joanne. I sit in a chair across from them. Joanne speaks.

What can I help you with?

I’ve been thinking about our conversation yesterday.

What have you been thinking?

I’m gonna stay here for a while. See what happens.

A while?

I’m not making any promises.

She smiles.

I think that’s a good start.

We’ll see.

They both smile. Joanne speaks.

What sparked this?

I don’t know.

Must have been something?

I don’t want to talk about it.

Why?

Because I don’t.

Because it makes you feel vulnerable.

Probably.

And you don’t like that, do you?

I shake my head.

No.

If you’re going to get better, you should get used to it.

You’re probably right.

Hank and I aren’t go to hurt you.

I know.

Try it. Be vulnerable.

I look at them, take a deep breath. I speak.

I saw a man cry yesterday. I’ve seen men cry before, but I usually think it’s because they’re weak or pathetic. The man who cried yesterday cried because he was strong and I admired his strength. I know people might think I’m strong or tough, but I’m really not. I’m a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

I take another breath.

So I was thinking about that and I was out walking around and I was trying to forget this place and I was trying to forget all the shit I’ve gotten myself into and I laid down in the grass and I felt calm, very calm, and I decided to stay for a while.

How’d it feel?

Just like I said. Calm.

You had what is called a Moment of Clarity.

That one of your AA terms?

Yes.

Then no, I didn’t have a Moment of Clarity. I just felt calm.

They both laugh. Joanne speaks.

That wasn’t so hard, was it?

Guess not.

That’s all you have to do and you’ll get better. Be honest, be vulnerable, talk about it.

I think it’s gonna be a bit more complicated than that.

A bit, but not really.

We’ll see.

There is a moment of silence. I stand.

I gotta go. I just thought I’d come by and tell you what I decided.

Joanne speaks.

We’re glad you did.

I move to the door.

I’ll see you soon.

They say good-bye and I walk out and back through the Halls to the Unit. I sit down on the floor with the rest of the men and I watch the end of a video. The video is about an athlete who had a drinking problem and quit drinking using the Twelve Steps and is now happy, well-adjusted and serene. As he speaks, he is sitting in his Office and there are pictures hanging behind him in his glory days as an athlete and everything is perfect and everything is inspirational. It’s a lot like an After-School Special and even though I’m going to try to keep an open mind while I’m here I think the thing is fucking stupid and I wonder if keeping an open mind at this place is the same thing as having an empty mind. Open mind, empty mind. This fucking stupid video isn’t going to convince me to do anything. No fucking way.

The video ends and everyone claps except for me. I boo and I get a bunch of dirty looks. The looks make me laugh and I get more dirty looks for laughing, which makes me laugh more. Someone I don’t know asks me what’s so funny and I tell him the video and he tells me to grow up and I tell him that I’m not gonna pretend that stupid shit is anything more than stupid shit and he walks away shaking his head. Open mind, empty mind. I wonder if they’re the same thing.

I go to lunch and I get a tray and some food and I eat with Ed and Ted and Matty and Leonard. Matty and Leonard do all the talking and the rest of us do the laughing. By the time we’re finished, our table is filled with men who have come over to hear Matty and Leonard.

After lunch there is a Lecture, but I don’t pay any attention to it.

After the Lecture Ken asks if he can see me in his Office. I follow him through the Halls and when we get to his Office, I sit down in a chair across from him.

It’s been awhile.

Yeah.

Have you thought about what we talked about last time you were here?

I don’t remember what that was.

Are you ready to do anything and everything it takes to get sober and stay sober?

Yeah, I thought about it.

Do you have an answer?

No.

Do you have an answer?

No.

Do you have an answer?

Staring at me and asking the same goddamn question over and over isn’t going to get us anywhere.

He stares.

Do you have an answer?

I laugh.

No.

Hopefully at some point you will.

We’ll see.

He sighs and shakes his head, looks at the papers on his desk.

I want to start getting into the meat of your Program.

All right.

He pulls out what looks like a children’s coloring book and he hands it to me.

We’ll start with this.

I look at the book

What’s this?

It’s a First Step workbook.

I laugh.

It’s a fucking coloring book.

It’s simple, yes, but we think the simplest approach is the best.

You want me to do a coloring book?

Yes.

I laugh.

You got a box of Crayolas I can borrow?

There’s some on the Unit.

I hope nobody took the Razzle Dazzle Rose.

What’s that?

My favorite crayon color. They have it in the sixty-four box.

You through?

You tired of me?

I’m tired of your jokes.

You don’t think they’re funny?

No.

I’ll stop for a while.

Good.

When’s my deadline?

Two days.

Got it.

There’s also a Goal Board hanging on the Upper Level. I want you to put your name on it and put down a life goal that you have and hope to achieve through sobriety.

Okay.

You have any ideas?

New set of teeth every year.

Not funny.

Become President of the United Sates.

You’ll be lucky to vote with your record.

Make mine the prettiest First Step coloring book ever?

You through?

You tired of me?

Put down a goal. Don’t make a joke out of it.

I’ll do my best.

I also think a change of scenery might be good for you, so this afternoon, I’m going to switch your Room assignment.

To where?

To a two-man Room. Warren and John are leaving later today, and I think it would be better to fill that Room with newer Arrivals.

I’d like that.

I’ll make the switch and tell you the Room number later.

Cool.

You seem better, and you seem to be making headway, but you need to take what we’re doing in here a bit more seriously. We ask for progress, not perfection. Just do your best.

I’ll try.

Come find me when you finish the book. I’d like to go over it with you.

Okay.

I stand and I leave and I walk back to the Unit. I look for John and Warren and I don’t see them so I go to my Room and I walk in. John is standing by his window and Warren is packing. I sit down on my bed.

Hi.

Warren speaks.

Hi.

John stares out the window.

I hear you’re leaving today.

Warren speaks.

Yes I am.

You excited?

Yes, but I’m also nervous. I’ve been a Drinker all my life, and it’s gonna be tough not having a nice, strong scotch at the end of each day. Or maybe six nice scotches.

You’re better without it.

You’re certainly right about that.

I stand, walk over to him. He stops packing.

Good luck, Warren.

I offer my hand. He takes it.

Thanks, James.

We shake. Strong and firm. I speak.

I’ve really appreciated how cool you’ve been to me.

It’s been a pleasure, James, and I’d do it again.

We let go and I walk over to John’s area. John’s bags are packed and they’re sitting on his bed. He’s still standing by the window, staring out at gray nothing.

John.

He turns around. There are tears on his face.

Hi, James.

What’s wrong?

I’m scared.

Come here.

He steps over. I point to the bed.

Sit.

He sits down on his bed, looks like a fragile little Boy. I sit next to him.

Why are you scared, John?

Because I know I’m not better.

Why do you think that?

Because I know it in my heart.

Then why don’t you stay until you feel like you’re better?

Because I know it won’t do any good.

Why do you think that?

Because I’ll never be any better. I’ll never be any more normal and I’ll never make the pain go away. Never ever ever.

You can’t think like that, John.

You do.

I’m trying not to anymore.

How?

I don’t know how. I’m just trying.

He looks at me, looks down at the bed, and he bursts out crying.

I feel safe here. Nobody can do anything to me and I can’t do anything to myself.

He looks up at me. A fragile little Boy.

Once I leave here, I know I’m going to do something stupid and I know I’m going to end up back in Jail and I know what’s going to happen to me there and I don’t want that to happen anymore.

I take one of his hands, hold it, don’t know what to say. He cries cries cries, sobbing, tears running down his face, his chest up and down, heavily up and down. I let go of his hand and I put my arms around him and I hug him and he cries and there is nothing I can say.

He stops crying and he settles and I let go of him and he wipes his face.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be sorry, John. There’s nothing wrong with crying.

I cry a lot.

I know. I admire that about you.

You do?

Yeah, I do. I think men who can cry are strong men.

You think I’m strong?

I think you’re stronger than you know.

Thanks, James.

He wipes his face again.

I’m gonna miss it here.

We’ll miss you.

Really?

Yeah.

You’re not lying?

No, I’m not lying.

He looks at me, reaches into one of his bags, and he pulls out a pen and a card.

Will you do something for me, James?

Of course.

He starts writing on the card.

When you get out of here, will you call my Daughter?

Not this again, John.

No, not that.

He holds out the card.

Will you call her and tell her that I tried real hard this time, as hard as I could, and that I wish I was more to her, and that I’m not as bad a man as everyone tells her I am.

I take the card, look at John.

I’d be honored, John.

And if you’re ever in the same place as her, maybe you could take her out to dinner or something, and—

He pauses, starts to cry, holds it back.

And just be nice to her, and—

He can’t hold it. He starts to cry. Like a fragile little Boy.

And tell her I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

I reach out and I hug him and I hold him and I let him cry cry cry and he pushes me away, and he asks me to leave him alone and as I walk out of the Room I look toward him and his head is buried in his pillow and I can hear him sobbing and wailing and saying the word.

No.

No.

No.

I leave him to himself and to his future and as I walk into the Unit I make sure the card is deep and safe in my pocket. I will make that call when I leave here. I will make that call and I will tell that Girl that her Father was a good man. She may not believe me, and there may not be anything to say that would change her mind, but I will tell her.

The Unit is crowded and the men are waiting for John and Warren and for their Graduation Ceremony. I don’t want to see it or participate in it and I have said my good-byes to them, so I start walking. Same as yesterday, I just want to forget.

There is no forgetting today. I know that as soon as I enter the Wood. The Fury takes over. It envelops every emotion every feeling every thought that I have. I can’t deal with emotions feelings thoughts so I let the Fury deal with them. It consumes them. The sadness I feel turns to rage, the calm to a desperate need. I want to destroy everything I see. That which I can’t destroy, I want to ingest. With each step that I take, it grows. Rage and need. Rage and need. Rage. Need.

I want a drink. I want fifty drinks. I want a bottle of the purest, strongest, most destructive, most poisonous alcohol on Earth. I want fifty bottles of it. I want crack, dirty and yellow and filled with formaldehyde. I want a pile of powder meth, five hundred hits of acid, a garbage bag filled with mushrooms, a tube of glue bigger than a truck, a pool of gas large enough to drown in. I want something anything whatever however as much as I can. Want need want need I want need enough to kill annihilate make me lose make me forget dull the motherfucking pain give me the darkest darkness the blackest blackness the deepest deepest deepest most horrible fucking hole. Goddamn it to fucking Hell, give it to me. Put me in the fucking hole.

I leave the Trail, force my way through heavy, frozen wood. I am shaking and my heart is racing and I am clenching my fists and I am clenching my jaw. My feet are snapping twigs and crushing infant sapling trees, my arms are removing whatever stands in front of me. The sharp sounds of destruction, a snap crack snap crack, incense me, enrage me, make me want to break more, destroy more, ruin everything. I want to ruin everything everywhere. I want to fucking ruin.

I break through a stand of thick Evergreen and into a small, tight, circular Clearing. I stop walking forging pushing fighting and I close my eyes and I take a deep breath and I hope that the breath will calm me but it doesn’t so I take another and it doesn’t another doesn’t another doesn’t another doesn’t. I want to be calm but there is no calm for me.

How I am here. How I have arrived in this place at this moment on this day with this feeling history future problems life this horrible fucked-up good-for-nothing waste of a life how. Fifteen minutes ago I was holding a lifelong Criminal and cocaine Addict who spent his childhood with his Father’s dick in his mouth as he cried because he was scared to go back into the World. I ate my lunch with some kind of menacing middle-aged movie-star Look-alike and a three-strike Fugitive and a Steel Worker with torn-out hair plugs and a one-hundred-ten-pound Ghost who used to be the Champion of the World. I was given a coloring book and told it would help make me better. I watched some Judge’s stupid fucking video and I was told it would help make me better. I got sick, just like I do every other fucking day, and I am not getting better. I am twenty-three years old and I’ve been an Alcoholic for a decade and a drug Addict and Criminal for almost as long and I’m wanted in three states and I’m in a Hospital in the middle of Minnesota and I want to drink and I want to do some drugs and I can’t control myself. I’m twenty-three.

I breathe and I shake and I can feel it coming and rage and need and confusion regret horror shame and hatred fuse into a perfect Fury a great and beautiful and terrible and perfect Fury the Fury and I can’t stop the Fury or control the Fury I can only let the Fury come come come come come. Let it motherfucking come. The Fury has come.

I see a tree and I go after it. Screaming punching kicking clawing tearing ripping dragging pulling wrecking punching screaming punching screaming punching screaming. It is a small tree, a small Pine Tree, small enough that I can destroy it, and I rip the branches from its trunk and I tear them to pieces one by one I rip them and I tear them and I throw them to the ground and I stomp them stomp them stomp them and when there are no more branches I hear a voice and I attack the trunk and it’s thin and I break it in half and I hear a voice and I ignore it and I throw the broken trunk on top of the branches and one half of it is still in the ground I hear a voice and I want it out of the fucking ground and I grab it and pull pull pull and it doesn’t budge not an inch I hear a voice and I ignore and I pull scream pull and it doesn’t budge this fucking tree I want to destroy it and I let go of it and there is a voice I ignore I start kicking kicking kicking and the voice says stop stop stop stop. Stop.

I turn around.

Long black hair and deep clean blue eyes and skin pale white and lips blood red she’s small and thin and worn and damaged. She is standing there.

What are you doing here?

I was taking a walk and I saw you and I followed you.

What do you want.

I want you to stop.

I breathe hard, stare hard, tense and coiled. There is still more tree for me to destroy I want that fucking tree. She smiles and she steps toward me, toward toward toward me, and she opens her arms and I’m breathing hard staring hard tense and coiled she puts her arms around me with one hand on the back of my head and she pulls me into her arms and she me holds me and she speaks.

It’s okay.

I breathe hard, close my eyes, let myself be held.

It’s okay.

Her voice calms me and her arms warm me and her smell lightens me and I can feel her heart beat and my heart slows and I stop shaking and the Fury melts into her safety and she holds me and she says.

Okay.

Okay.

Okay.

Something else comes and it makes me feel weak and scared and fragile and I don’t want to be hurt and this feeling is the feeling I have when I know I can be hurt and hurt deeper and more terribly than anything physical and I always fight it and control it and stop it but her voice calms me and her arms warm me and her smell lightens me and I can feel her heart beat and if she let me go right now I would fall and the need and confusion and fear and regret and horror and shame and weakness and fragility are exposed to the soft strength of her open arms and her simple word okay and I start to cry. I start to cry. I start to cry.

It comes in waves. The waves roll deep and from deep the deep within me and I hold her and she holds me tighter and I let her and I let it and I let this and I have not felt this way this vulnerability or allowed myself to feel this way this vulnerability since I was ten years old and I don’t know why I haven’t and I don’t know why I am now and I only know that I am and that it is scary terrifying frightening worse and better than anything I’ve ever felt crying in her arms just crying in her arms just crying.

She guides me to the ground, but she doesn’t let me go. The Gates are open and thirteen years of addiction, violence, Hell and their accompaniments are manifesting themselves in dense tears and heavy sobs and a shortness of breath and a profound sense of loss. The loss inhabits, fills and overwhelms me. It is the loss of a childhood of being a Teenager of normalcy of happiness of love of trust of reason of God of Family of friends of future of potential of dignity of humanity of sanity of myself of everything everything everything. I lost everything and I am lost reduced to a mass of mourning, sadness, grief, anguish and heartache. I am lost. I have lost. Everything. Everything.

It’s wet and Lilly cradles me like a broken Child. My face and her shoulder and her shirt and her hair are wet with my tears. I slow down and I start to breathe slowly and deeply and her hair smells clean and I open my eyes because I want to see it and it is all that I can see. It is jet black almost blue and radiant with moisture. I want to touch it and I reach with one of my hands and I run my hand from the crown along her neck and her back to the base of her rib and it is a thin perfect sheer and I let it slowly drop from the tips of my fingers and when it is gone I miss it. I do it again and again and she lets me do it and she doesn’t speak she just cradles me because I am broken. I am broken. Broken.

There is noise and voices and Lilly pulls me in tighter and tighter and I pull her in tighter and tighter and I can feel her heart beating and I know she can feel my heart beating and they are speaking our hearts are speaking a language wordless old unknowable and true and we’re pulling and holding and the noise is closer and the voices louder and Lilly whispers.

You’re okay.

You’re okay.

You’re okay.

And she lets me go and I let her go and she stands and I stay and she stares down at me.

I have to go.

I stare at her.

I’ll call you later.

I stare at her.

Bye.

I stare at her and she backs away toward the far edge of our Clearing. When she reaches the edge she turns around and she disappears through Evergreen thick and I hear her step settling and her step is gentle and I hear her voice intermingle and her voice is gentle and I sit and I breathe and I sit and I stare. I am alone, lost and broken. I stare at the Evergreen thick. Alone lost broken.

The Sun is falling and the cold is running and the night is descending and I’m tired, spent and completely empty. I force myself to stand and I make my way through the trees until I pick up a Trail and then I let the Trail lead me. My feet are heavy, my body is tired and my heart is beating slow slow slow. The walk is only a couple hundred yards, but it seems across the Earth.

It takes all my strength to open the door. I step inside and I walk through the Unit and I go to my Room. As I enter, I see that all of my things my new beautiful things have been stacked on a chair near my bed. I flare momentarily until I notice a letter sitting on top of my clothes. I reach for it and I open it and I read it and it is from Ken and it says per our earlier conversation you are being moved to a new Room and it has the Room number.

I pick up my clothes and my books they are my only belongings in the World and I leave. I walk through the Halls surrounding the Unit looking for my new Room. I find the Room and the door is closed and my arms are full so I kick the door open with one of my feet. I walk inside. The Room is smaller than the other Room, but otherwise identical. There are two beds and a Bathroom off to the side. There is a middle-aged black man lying on one of the beds. I have never seen him before. He looks at me and he speaks.

Most people knock before entering a Room.

He has a deep, slow southern accent.

I didn’t know anyone was here.

I walk to the empty bed.

You could have knocked anyway.

I sit down.

Sorry.

I start putting my stuff away.

Are you living here?

Yeah.

What’s your name?

James.

Hello James, my name’s Miles.

Like Miles Davis?

Exactly like Miles Davis.

Exactly?

Yes.

Your name is Miles Davis?

Yes, it is.

I laugh.

You play the trumpet?

No, I play the clarinet.

He motions toward a black case sitting at the foot of his bed.

I played the trumpet when I was younger, but when the other Miles got famous, I quit. It was a bit too much.

Where you from?

New Orleans. Where are you from?

I live in North Carolina.

Which part?

Wilmington.

Do you like Wilmington?

It’s nice, but I don’t really give a shit.

He laughs.

What do you do down in New Orleans?

I’m a Judge.

What do you Judge?

I’m a Judge in the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals.

That’s heavy.

He shrugs.

It is what it is.

You put people away?

I did when I worked in the Criminal Court, but I don’t anymore.

What was that like?

It’s hard putting away a man. There’s nothing good waiting for him in Jail, even if he does deserve it.

I nod.

What do you do?

I get in trouble.

He laughs.

What kind of trouble?

All kinds.

You in trouble now?

Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.

He laughs again.

Are you in any other trouble?

Can I plead the Fifth?

If you would like.

I would.

He looks at his watch.

Have you eaten supper yet?

No.

Would you like to eat with me?

I stand.

Let’s go.

He stands and we leave the Room. We walk through the Halls to the Cafeteria and we get in line and we get some food. When we sit down at a table, I find out that Miles is an Alcoholic and that he’s married and he has two Children and he arrived here this afternoon. He speaks quietly and methodically and he chooses his words carefully and he says as much with his hands and his eyes and the motions of his head as he does with words themselves. When I speak, he listens carefully, softly interjecting with a nod or a chuckle or quiet word of validation. He is immediately a friend, which is strange to me. I have always hated Cops and Judges, or Authority Figures of any kind, and the last place I would have ever thought I would befriend one would be in a Treatment Center.

After a few minutes, we are joined by Leonard and Matty and Ed and Ted. It is a typical meal with them. They laugh, make fun of one another, tell stories about their pasts, talk shit about the Clinic’s other Patients. Aside from Miles, there are four new men on our Unit, and Leonard and Matty and Ed and Ted size them up, talk about which ones they like and which ones they don’t like, and make plans to fuck with them. There is one, a short fat man named Bobby, whom they seem to harbor a particular dislike for, though I don’t know why. I do know that I’m glad I’m not him.

We finish eating and we walk as a group to the Lecture. We sit as a group in the seats. I sit on the aisle and I watch for Lilly. When she walks in my heart jumps and my hands shake and me myself inside settles it settles and those things for which there are no words ignite and they start firing firing firing. I knew I would be affected when I saw her, but I didn’t know this and I don’t know this and I’m surprised and the surprise makes me nervous and I’m usually not nervous. Usually I’m just pissed. I’m not pissed right now. They have ignited and they are firing.

A man walks out onstage and everyone starts clapping. I recognize the man as a famous Rock Star who was once a Patient here. He holds his arms up in triumph and he smiles and he bows and his black leather is shining and his long, greasy black hair is hanging and his patterned silk shirt is flowing and his large, round silver earrings are dangling and everyone is dazzled. He motions for quiet and the clapping stops and he starts theatrically pacing back and forth across the Stage back and forth.

He stops and he stares at the ceiling for a moment as if there’s something up there besides the ceiling panels and he looks back and he starts speaking in a deep, serious voice. His first words are when I had my first hit single and I got famous I started to party really fucking hard.

From there he launches into a detailed accounting of his career. He talks about the number of records sold and the number of women slept with and the number of awards won. He talks about living on the road and he says it ain’t easy, man, even if you are staying at the Four Seasons. He talks about the rigors of recording an album and he talks about the pressures of being a Star. He talks about what he calls the national obsession with his lips and his hair and he talks about melodic qualities of his voice. After a while, after far too long a while, he talks about drinking and drugs. When he talks of heroin, he taps the bend of his elbow with two fingers, when he talks of coke he sniffs, booze he makes a motion like he has a bottle, pills as if he’s tossing them in. He claims that at the height of his use he would do five thousand dollars of cocaine and heroin a day mixed with four to five fifths of booze a night and up to forty pills of Valium to sleep. He says this with complete sincerity and with the utmost seriousness.

I am tired and I am spent. I am nervous and I am happy. I am calm. Were I in my normal frame of mind, I would stand up, point my finger, scream Fraud, and chase this Chump Motherfucker down and give him a beating. Were I in my normal frame of mind, after I gave him his beating, I would make him come back here and apologize to everyone for wasting their precious time. After the apology, I would tell him that if I ever heard of him spewing his bullshit fantasies in Public again, I would cut off his precious hair, scar his precious lips, and take all of his goddamn gold records and shove them straight up his ass.

I don’t like this man. I don’t like what he has to say or how he’s saying it. I don’t believe him and his Rock Star status isn’t enough to make me buy the shit he’s trying to sell. Four to five thousand dollars a day of anything is enough to kill a Person several times over. Five bottles of strong liquor over the course of a night would render the strongest human on Earth comatose. Forty Valiums to sleep and he’d take a fucking nap from which he’d never return. He’d never return and maybe that would be best.

An Addict is an Addict. It doesn’t matter whether the Addict is white, black, yellow or green, rich or poor or somewhere in the middle, the most famous Person on the Planet or the most unknown. It doesn’t matter whether the addiction is drugs, alcohol, crime, sex, shopping, food, gambling, television, or the fucking Flintstones. The life of the Addict is always the same. There is no excitement, no glamour, no fun. There are no good times, there is no joy, there is no happiness. There is no future and no escape. There is only an obsession. An all-encompassing, fully enveloping, completely overwhelming obsession. To make light of it, brag about it, or revel in the mock glory of it is not in any way, shape or form related to its truth, and that is all that matters, the truth. That this man is standing in front of me and everyone else in this room lying to us is heresy. The truth is all that matters. This is fucking heresy.

The Lecture ends and there is wild applause and enthusiastic cheers and the Lips, Hair, Leather and Silk on the Stage is smiling and waving and glowing and blowing kisses to his adoring Fans. I am tired. I am spent. I am nervous and I am happy and I am calm. Were I in my normal frame of mind, I’d be sick to my stomach. I hear Leonard mumbling and I ask him what he just said and he laughs and tells me that he’s thinking of sending a few of his Associates to have a talk with the Lips about an attitude adjustment. I laugh and I tell him it would be a beautiful thing. Bless you, Leonard. It would be a beautiful fucking thing.

We stand and we start to file out and before I leave I turn to get a glimpse of Lilly but I can’t see her and I don’t want to make my intentions obvious so I turn back and I keep walking. I wish I could see her. I want to see her. I don’t see her. I walk back to the Unit and I go to my Room and I lie down on my bed.

Miles walks in and he sits down on his bed and he reaches for his clarinet case and he starts unpacking it and he asks if I mind if he plays and I say no play whatever you want for as long as you want and I reach for a book one of the books my Brother gave me and I don’t bother looking to see what I’m reaching for because I don’t care I just want to read and I want to occupy my mind with something. The rage and need are back they have returned are alive as they almost always are living and lingering and eating me away. I need something to occupy my mind. I don’t care what it is. Occupy.

I pull the Chinese book, the Tao te Ching, by far the smallest of the three that I have, and the only one that I haven’t read before. It is a small, thin paperback. The title is written across the front in simple white type against a black background. I flip the book over and I look at the back and there are quotes on the back from three sources that I have never heard of before but that look like bullshit new-age Hippie Periodicals. There is a publication classification in an upper corner. It reads Religion.

I am immediately skeptical. Not only because of the source quotes and the Religion classification, but because I’ve always grouped books such as this in a category with crap like Astrology, Aromatherapy, Crystalology, Pyramid Power, Psychic Healing and Feng Shui, which at various times in my life have all been suggested as cures for my problems. That anyone would actually believe that these things could solve their problems, really solve them, instead of just making them forget about them for a while, is asinine to me. My Brother gave me this book though, so I’ll read it. Had anyone aside from my Brother given it to me, it would be sitting in the bottom of a garbage can.

As I open it, Miles starts playing his clarinet. He plays softly and slowly. The notes are on the low side and he draws them out to the point that I wonder how he’s breathing. The notes are on the long side and he makes them sound like they are easy to make, though I know they are not. Low and slow and soft and long and easy. I don’t know what it is, but I like it.

I skip the Introduction. If the book goes in the trash, I want it to go because of my thoughts on it, not because of some Asshole’s thoughts who wrote the Introduction.

The text begins. It consists of a series of short poems numbered one through eighty-one. The first one says that the Tao is that which has no name and is beyond any sort of name. It says that names are not necessary for that which is real and for that which is eternal. It says that if we are free from desire, we can realize mystery, that if we are caught in desire, we only realize manifestations. It says mystery and manifestations arise from the same source, which is darkness. It says darkness within darkness is the key to all understanding. It is not enough to make me throw it away, but I am also not convinced.

I keep going. I keep going as I listen to low and slow and soft and long and easy. I keep going as I settle in beneath the warmth of my bed and I keep going as I wait for the phone to ring. When the phone rings, I know I will get to hear the sound of Lilly’s voice. I want to hear the sound of Lilly’s voice.

Number two. If there is beauty, there is ugliness. If there is good, there is bad. Being and nonbeing and difficult and easy and high and low and long and short and before and after need, depend, create and define each other. Those who live with the Tao act without doing and teach without saying. They let things come and they let things go and they live without possession and they live without expectation. They do not need, depend, create or define. They do not see beauty or ugliness or good or bad. There just is. Just be.

Number three. Overesteem men and people become powerless. Overvalue possessions and people begin to steal. Empty your mind and fill your core. Weaken your ambition and toughen your resolve. Lose everything you know and everything you desire and ignore those who say they know. Practice not wanting, desiring, judging, doing, fighting, knowing. Practice just being. Everything will fall into place.

Four. The Tao is used, but never used up. An eternal void, it is filled with infinite possibilities. It is not there, but always there. It is older and more powerful than any God. It is not there, but always there. It is older and more powerful than any God.

I stop reading and I read them again. One through four, again and again. The words and the words together and the meaning and the context are simple so simple and basic so basic and true and that is all that matters true. They speak to me, make sense to me, reverberate within me, calm ease sedate relax still pacify me. They ring true and that is all that matters the truth. Although I am no expert on this or anything related to this or anything at all except being a fuck-up, I seem to understand what this book this weird beautiful enlightened little book is saying to me. Live and let live, do not judge, take life as it comes and deal with it, everything will be okay.

I close the book and I let the sounds of the clarinet carry me carry me carry me. They are low and slow and soft and long and easy, as are the thoughts in my head. They carry me carry me carry me.

Live and let live.

Do not judge.

Take it as it comes.

Deal with it.

Everything will be okay.


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