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A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: Chapter 13


I have an empty bottle in one hand. I have an empty pipe in the other. I am standing on a Street Corner littered with trash. There are shoes hanging from the telephone wires. The ghosts of the rock are screaming. Dealers are hawking their wares. I have an empty bottle in one hand, I have an empty pipe in the other. I’m looking for more.

I wake shaking and shaken. I know I was dreaming, but it doesn’t matter. The liquor was real. The crack was real. The ghosts were real and the dealers were real. It was all real. I am shaking and shaken.

I put my arms around myself. I curl into a ball. I think about what is good in my life. I try to occupy my mind. I have been sober for a few weeks. I have friends. Matty and Ed and Ted. Miles and Leonard and Lilly. I have a Brother Bob. I have some clothes and I have some books. It is more than enough.

Roaring pit bulls straining chains. A dead grass yard. Rats scurry across the floor they bite sleeping faces. An empty House no furniture nothing. It is empty but for empty People. The ghosts of the rock. There is smoke in the air mixed with gas and formaldehyde. I am screaming. Screaming pleading begging for more. Give me more please give me more I want need have to have more. I’ll give my life heart soul money future everything please give me more. I want need have to have more. Give me more and I’ll give you everything. Give me more and I’ll do whatever you want. Give me more. Give me more. Give me more.

I wake shaking and shaken. I know I was dreaming, but it doesn’t matter. It was real. The dogs the rats the House the People the rock. The great and terrible rock. It was real and I smoked it. I am shaking and shaken.

I curl tighter try to think of the good. I have more than I need, more than enough. Curl tighter. Think of the good. Think of the good.

Another dream.

Another dream.

Each time I sleep.

Another dream.

They are real.

Real.

Another dream.

I am shaking and shaken. I can see light through the window. I stand. I am unsteady as I walk to the Bathroom. I open the door and I fall to my knees and I crawl to the toilet and I am sick. Over and over again. I am violently sick. It is another reminder of the life I have lived. The sickness and the blood and the bile and the chunks of my stomach. Sitting in the water beneath my nose. Another reminder.

I stand up and I step into the shower and I turn on the heat. I step under the stream and I let the water run down and across and over and off of me. I fight the urge to vomit again I am fucking tired of being sick. They were only dreams. This can’t keep happening. They were only dreams.

I step out and I grab a towel and I wrap it around my waist and I walk to the sink and I brush my teeth. The taste of my sickness mixes with the taste of my toothpaste. I wash my mouth, but the taste doesn’t go away. I wash it again and it doesn’t go away. I wash it again. It is not going away.

I stop washing my mouth and I shave. As I stand in front of the mirror with the razor, I look at my body. I am getting bigger. I am acquiring flesh. The veins on my arms are still blue, but they are a lighter blue. The bones of my cheek and the line of my jaw are less defined, the bruises that covered me are gone. There is a thin layer of fat over all of me and I am starting to get a belly. I look less like what I am and more like a human being. I am becoming more like a human being.

I finish shaving and I rinse the residue from my face. I take a deep breath and I look at the base of the mirror and I start to move slowly up. I see my chest, my collarbone, the base of my neck. I want to see my eyes. I see my throat, my Adam’s apple, the curve of my neck into my chin I want to see my eyes. I see my lips they are healed. I see my cheek it is scarred. I see my nose no longer swollen. I see the area beneath my eyes. It has bags, but they are gray bags of wear not the black and yellow bags of violence. There is green above them. Pale green. As I move toward it, I stop and I breathe. I hold beneath pale green. I can see the lash below. I can see the white beneath. I breathe. It’s there. I hold and it’s there. Pale green.

I turn around. I walk out of the Bathroom. Miles is still sleeping I try to be quiet. I get dressed and I walk out of my Room the Hall is still asleep. I walk into the Upper Level of the Unit and I make the coffee. I wait for it to brew. When it is ready, I pour myself a tall cup steaming hot and black. I sit at a table and I light a cigarette. I am alone. I sit and I drink and I smoke. I don’t think about what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I just sit there alone. I drink and I smoke.

One of the sliding glass doors opens. I look down and I see Leonard walking into the Lower Level of the Unit. He is wearing a jogging outfit and his face is red it is dripping with sweat. He looks as if he is in better shape then when I met him. He’s thin, his jawline is visible, his cheeks are flush. He looks like a healthy suburban Father coming home from a jog. He sees me, walks toward me.

What’s up, Leonard?

Out for a run.

How was it?

It sucked.

He gets a cup of coffee, sits down at the table.

You got one of those for me?

I didn’t think you smoked.

I just did something good to my body. Now I want to do something bad to it.

I laugh, hand him a smoke, light it. He takes a deep drag, looks at me.

I hear you’re seeing that Girl with the black hair.

What Girl?

The Crackhead.

Where’d you hear that?

I never betray a Source.

We’re friends, but that’s not going to stop me from beating your ass if you don’t tell me who told you that.

He laughs.

Ted told me.

How would he know?

He sneaks out every night and meets some Girl in the Woods. I guess that Girl is on the same Unit as your Girl, and if you didn’t know by now, Girls talk about that shit.

There’s not much to talk about.

Not much means there’s something.

I’ve met her out there a couple times. We talk. It’s no big deal.

You like her?

Yeah.

She good to you?

There’s no good or bad, we just talk.

You look different right now. That’s a good sign.

I smile.

You’re making a big deal out of nothing, Leonard.

I’m only interested in your happiness, Kid. If you’re happy, I’m happy.

I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy.

You’ll be happy soon. Just hold on.

We’ll see.

He holds up the cigarette, looks at it.

These things are fucking disgusting.

I laugh.

They’re all I got left.

He stubs it out, stands.

I’m gonna take a shower. Wait for me and we’ll go to breakfast.

He leaves. I sit and I wait and I smoke cigarettes and I drink coffee. I watch men begin to filter in and out of the Unit. Some are doing their morning Jobs, some are getting coffee, some are buying candy or cans of soda from the machines. I don’t talk to any of them. I just sit and I stare out a window. I don’t know what’s outside the window and I don’t particularly care, it is but a point on which to focus my eyes while I drink and I smoke. I drink and I smoke.

Leonard comes back into the Upper Level. He is clean and his hair is wet. He says I’m hungry let’s eat and I stand and we walk to the Dining Hall. I get in line and I get a plate of eggs and bacon and he gets a plate of pancakes and we find a table. We are joined by our friends. As we eat, we talk about the upcoming Heavyweight Championship. Matty knows the fighters and he speaks of the fight with great enthusiasm, stopping and swearing at himself for swearing, jabbing and moving as if he is in the Ring. We sit and laugh and after a few moments, everyone except Matty stops talking. He talks enough for all of us.

After a breakfast another Lecture. We play cards in the back row.

After Lecture, Joanne is waiting for me outside the Hall. She says I am with her this morning and we walk through the Halls toward her Office. The Halls are bright and I do not mind. When we walk inside, she sits down in one of the comfortable chairs and I sit on the couch. She lights a cigarette and I light a cigarette. She leans back, settles in, speaks.

You think about our conversation yesterday?

No.

Why?

Because I’m not going to change my mind and I’m not going to bother thinking about changing my mind.

James, you are an incredibly Addicted Person. You have been told by qualified Doctors that any drug or alcohol use is going to kill you. In all of my experience, I have never seen anyone stay sober and survive in the long term using anything but AA and the Twelve Steps. They may last a week or a month or in the best cases a year, but without the necessary support, all of them start using again and most of them die. Is that really what you want?

I’d rather have that than spend my life sitting in Church basements listening to People whine and bitch and complain. That’s not productivity to me, nor is it progress. It is the replacement of one addiction with another, and if I’m gonna be Addicted to something, it’s gonna be something I like.

AA is not a replacement addiction. It is a support group based around the Twelve Steps.

You can look at it however you want, but when someone stops doing one thing every day and starts doing another thing every day, that seems like a replacement addiction to me.

She takes a deep frustrated breath.

Would you rather be Addicted to something that makes you a better person and makes you healthier every day, or something that’s going to kill you?

You can try whatever tricks you want, taking my position or reverse psychology or whatever else you got in your bag, but I’m not gonna believe in AA or the Twelve Steps. The whole thing is based on belief in God. I don’t have that, and I never will.

It is based on a belief in a Higher Power, not God.

Same thing.

God, in our Society, is a man with a long flowing beard who sits on a chair in Heaven. You don’t have to believe in that. A Higher Power can be anything you would like it to be or anything that gets you through the day. It could be the Sky, it could be Buddha. It could be the Force from Star Wars. AA does not try to push any one Higher Power or Religion or particular belief on you.

Let’s get something straight before we talk about this anymore.

What?

Whether you’re saying Higher Power or you’re saying God, you’re saying the same thing.

I think that’s too general a statement. It discounts the diversity of the World’s Spiritual Thought.

From where I sit, all Religion and Spiritual Thought are the same thing. They exist to make People feel better about living, to give them some kind of moral code, and to help them feel better about dying by promising something better when their life ends, provided they follow all of God’s Rules.

Is something wrong with that purpose?

I think it’s bullshit. I don’t need something that doesn’t exist to tell me how to live.

How can you be so sure that something Greater than ourselves doesn’t exist?

How can you be so sure it does?

Because I have faith in it.

I don’t.

She pauses, takes a deep breath, speaks.

What do you think faith is?

I think for a moment. I speak.

Faith is the belief in something that can’t be proven to exist.

Have you ever considered it?

Yes.

And why don’t you have it?

I think God is something that People use to avoid reality. I think faith allows People to reject what is right in front of our eyes, which is that this thing, this life, this existence, this consciousness, or whatever word you want to use for it, is all we have, and all we’ll ever have. I think People have faith because they want and need to believe in something, whatever that something is, because life can be hard and depressing and brutal if you don’t.

You may be right, but what about accepting the idea that faith can make your life better. I know my faith makes my life better, and whether what I believe in exists or not, because I have faith in it, I get the benefits of that faith.

I’m not going to ever have faith in God or anything like God.

Do you have faith in love?

Meaning what?

Do you believe in love?

Yeah.

Do you believe it can make your life better?

Yeah.

Do you have faith in anything else?

Friendship.

You believe in friendship?

Very much so.

Anything else?

What’s your point?

You can’t prove love or friendship exist, but you still have faith in them. I’m asking you to try and apply the same principle to something greater than yourself.

I can feel love and friendship. I can see and touch and talk to the People I love and the People I choose to make my friends. The idea of God doesn’t make me feel anything and I can’t see God or touch God or talk to God.

Have you ever tried to open yourself up to the idea of faith?

I’ve read the Bible. It didn’t ring true to me. I know People who consider themselves close to God, but I’ve never understood their feelings. I’ve spent time in Churches, and I can appreciate their beauty and majesty, but nothing good has ever happened to me in a Church.

What does that mean?

Exactly what I said.

Is there something you aren’t telling me?

Nothing that has anything to do with what we’re talking about.

She stares at me, I stare at her. She speaks.

I want you to think more about this and try to come to terms with it. I want you to stop intellectualizing it and try to open yourself to it.

I’ve never believed in God, not even as a little Kid. I’m not going to start now.

Think about it.

Fine.

She stands and I stand and we walk to the door and she opens it.

There are going to be some alterations to your Program, which Ken will talk to you about this afternoon. Come back and talk to me when you’re ready.

I walk out and I walk through the Halls. As I head to the Unit, I see Leonard walking toward me. He tells me it’s time for lunch so we walk to the Dining Hall and we find a table. We are joined by Ed and Ted and Matty and Miles and Bobby.

Bobby tells stories and talks mountains of shit. I have this, I know this Person, they owe me this much money, on and on and on. At one point he starts talking about Las Vegas and a trip he took there for a meeting with Mikey the Nose. Leonard, who has been ignoring Bobby for most of lunch, starts listening to him. He does not speak, and it is not obvious that he’s interested, but I can see him start to pay closer attention. Bobby says that Mikey was a fat, drunk pig, foolish with his money and foolish with his mouth, and that when he was finally taken out, there were parties all over New York. Bobby says that he owed Mikey a fairly large sum of money, and that with Mikey’s death, the debt disappeared. Bobby says that the last time he went to Las Vegas, he went and found Mikey’s grave and took a piss on it. I watch Leonard as Bobby says these things. I watch his face remain a mask of calm, I watch his hands stay still upon the table. I know that if Bobby were saying these things about someone whom I loved, I’d be across the table and on his neck. Leonard just sits and listens. Leonard just sits and stares.

We finish lunch and we stand and walk as a group to the Lecture. We sit in the back and we play cards. For the first time since I have known him, Leonard loses every hand we play. Ted wins three, Ed and Matty win two, Miles and I don’t win any. When the Lecture is over, everyone gives Leonard his money back. We leave.

As we walk through the Halls and toward the Unit, Ken steps out of his Office and he asks to speak with me. I step into his Office and sit down and he does the same.

There a few things we need to talk about today.

He picks up a piece of paper and he passes it to me.

This a release so that we can have a Lawyer who works here contact the states in which you have issues and try to begin to sorting them out. You need to read it, write down the states and Cities and what you think the problems are, and sign it. You don’t have to do it, but we highly recommend that you do.

You got a pen?

Sure.

He picks up a pen and he hands it to me. I take it, start reading the document.

In a related, or somewhat related issue, we’ve noticed that you’ve become close to Leonard. We’re a bit concerned about that.

I look up.

Why?

You’re a young man with a tenuous relationship with the law. We don’t think that he’s going to be a good influence on you.

Why’s that?

Do you have any idea what Leonard does for a living?

He’s a Businessman of some sort.

Ken laughs.

What kind of business?

I haven’t asked.

Have you ever noticed that people are scared of Leonard?

Yeah.

Why do you think that it is?

Because he lives without fear. That tends to scare people.

That’s not the reason, James.

What is the reason, Ken?

I’m assuming you know more than you’re telling me, but I’ll say it anyway. Leonard is involved in Organized Crime. He’s a fairly major figure in that world. He has been asked not to discuss or flaunt what he does, and because he has real and serious Chemical Dependency issues, we did not turn him away, but we do keep a fairly close eye on him.

I shrug.

Everybody’s gotta make a living.

That’s your reaction?

That’s my reaction.

We don’t think you should spend so much time with him. We believe it’s going to negatively impact your recovery.

Leonard and I are friends. I like him and I trust him and I respect him. I can’t see how having a friend like that is going to hurt me.

Has he ever asked you to do anything illegal?

I laugh.

No.

Has he ever told you what he does for a living?

He says he’s a Businessman, he doesn’t say much else.

I would like a definition of much else.

I’m not talking about this anymore, Ken.

It’s for your own good, James.

Next issue, Ken.

He takes a deep breath and he looks down at a stack of papers on his desk. He looks up.

Your Parents are coming here. They’ve enrolled in the Family Program.

What?

We’ve been talking to them fairly regularly since you got here and they’ve decided that they want to come to the Family Program. Everyone involved thinks it’s a good idea.

You think about checking with me?

We had an idea about what your reaction would be.

When do they get here?

Tomorrow.

They’re coming from Japan?

Yes.

I shake my head and I stare at the floor. I let it come and it comes fast. Anger, rage, hatred, shame and horror fusing into the Fury the perfect beautiful and terrible Fury. I can’t do anything with it and I can’t do anything to stop it unless I drink and kill it or do drugs and kill it or do both and kill it. I clench my jaw and I ball my fists and I fight myself. I want to get fucked up.

You okay?

I look at Ken.

No.

What are you feeling?

I’m angry.

Anything else?

I want to drink.

Anything else?

Get fucked up.

Anything else?

I want to jump over your goddamn desk and knock your fucking teeth down your throat.

Do I need to call Security?

I take a deep breath.

What’s going to happen when they get here?

I clench my jaw.

You’ll stay on the Unit at night and eat your meals as you usually do, but your day will be spent in the Family Center.

I squeeze my fists.

And what happens there?

You’ll engage in Group Therapy with the other Patients and Family Members and you’ll spend some one-on-one time with your Parents.

I hold on.

Sounds fucking great.

Why don’t you want them here?

Because I don’t.

Why?

I’m not talking to you about it anymore.

I look down at the release he has given me, write down the names of the Cities and the states, and I hand it back to him.

Anything else?

I think we need to start working on getting at the source of your anger.

I look at him and I laugh and I stand up and I walk out of his Office. The Halls are bright and the Fury inside of me wants them down full of holes reduced to rubble. I hate these fucking Halls I want to destroy them destroy myself destroy everything. I breathe deeply and I hold on and I walk toward the Unit. I want to go outside and I want to breathe free air. I want air that is not of this place and I want space that is not of this place. I want no walls, no Halls, no Units, no Counselors, no Rules, no God, No Higher Powers, no Steps, no Groups, no Lectures, no Dining Hall, nobody to see talk to deal with. I want to breathe. Free empty air.

I walk through the Upper Level and I walk down to the Lower Level and through a Group Session Lincoln is leading and he asks me what I’m doing and I ignore him and I open the glass doors and I step outside and I breathe breathe breathe and the air is free.

I start walking. I have no idea where I’m going, I’m just walking. I take a Trail and I follow it and it leads me into the cover of Evergreen. It’s darker in here and I feel less vulnerable and more comfortable. I am breathing deeply, as deeply as I can breathe, and the air is calming me down. The Fury has dissipated and is a walking rage, an anger like fire, entirely controllable, and easy to stop it from burning or hurting anything.

The Sun is high, its light shattered by tree branches, their streams illuminate dirt, dead leaves and rotting plants killed by the Winter’s cold. Frost sparkles in the shade waiting to melt. In an hour it will be gone. In ten hours it will return. Another day another cycle here gone back tomorrow gone again. I am cold. Warmth is in the light but I avoid it. As I walk, I’ll get warmer. I’m in no hurry.

I follow the Trail and the Trail leads me along the Lake. The Lake is the same as it is each day the same. Sheets of ice, life below, birds above. Noise destroying silence, silence overwhelming noise. Reflections slowly move along the water distorting what is real the object or the image. They are both real and it is all real. It all is front of me life is in front of me and behind me above me below me surrounding me. I can see it and feel it and hear it and touch it. Inside and outside. Right now.

A bench is empty. I sit down close my eyes open myself. I don’t know to what I am opening myself. Is it God or something Higher. Is it me or what is around me. Does it matter do I need to know. It matters because it is what is keeping me together. This opening is allowing me to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. I need to believe in it to continue to believe in me. I need to know what it is. What is it that opens me.

I stand and I walk along the edge of the water until it ends in a Sea of yellow grass. The grass is dead now but will return in the Spring that is the way of the World. Things die and they return. Is that biology or God or something Higher. Are we biology or God or something Higher. I know my heart beats and I listen to it. The beat is biology, but what is the song. Will this song exist when the beating stops. Will one stay when one is gone, can one live without the other. Does it matter. It does. I have to believe in something. It is holding me together.

Up the Pine walk and across the murky desolation of swamp and rot and life existing because of death. Back down into dense Oak and Evergreen. The Sun is still hot and high its rays still scattered still dancing across the floor of earth and my feet are moving easily. The Fury is gone, replaced with free air and the quiet emptiness of a solitary calm. I am quiet and empty. I am calm.

If there is anything I seek it is this. The calm. If there is God or something Higher for me it is this. The calm. If there is something that will hold me when I need to hold it is this the calm. There is no anger, no rage, no Fury. There is no want no need no desire. There is no hatred no shame no regret. There is no grief, no sadness, no depression. There is no fear. Absolutely no fear. When one lives without fear, one cannot be broken. When one lives with fear one is broken before one begins to live. The calm I feel right now. What is it?

I am lost in the Woods but still on a Trail. I am seeking that which I have but will lose again. I have sought it before as a cure for the disease of myself. In a Church as a Child it did not come. I held my Parents’ hands and I felt nothing. Love only brought me loneliness and horror. In bottles and pipes I found emptiness and pain. At twenty-two after Jail and bond and flight I went back to a Cathedral where what I sought was calm. The calm did not come. I have it now. Without God. I have it now.

The Wood fades into brittle brown grass and a slope carries me to a point where I can see all that surrounds me. I can see trees and Woods and Swamps and Lakes and birds and animals and men and women and the Buildings of the Clinic and the Sky and whatever is beyond the Sky. I can hear the wind and water and the cries of flying birds and the screams of the Patients locked down and detoxifying. I can feel them and I can feel myself. I can feel the life in them and the life around me. I can feel it in the beating calm of my heart. It is not God and it is not something Higher. This feeling of calm is of me, within me, from me and created by me. It is not God. It is not something Higher.

I sit and I stare at the World. I see it and I hear it and I touch it and I feel it. It is what it is, dirt and rock and water and Sun and air and waves of light and waves of sound made up of definable elements. It can be created or reproduced by man at will. Science has given us that power. There is no mystery to it. We can create it all in a laboratory. There is no mystery anymore as there was at the dawn of history when no one knew what or how or why. We have answers now. Answers that reveal truth. Truth is not God and it is not a Higher Power. There is no God. There is no Higher Power.

I let it in through the open of my calm. There is no God. There is no Higher Power. I let it in to the deep simple center of what I am which is biology and energy and a beating heart that sings in a language only I can speak. I let it in and it mixes and settles with the calm there is nothing else. I will not fight God anymore. I will not fight anything Higher. Fighting is an acknowledgement of existence. I no longer need to fight or acknowledge what I know is not there. There are still fights to be fought, and I will fight them, but not with the blind faith of a false conversion to a belief in that which does not, has not, will not ever exist God or something Higher. I will fight with me, my heart, my will, myself, my song, I will fight with me. I may win, I may lose. It doesn’t matter either way. What matters is how I do it. There is no God and there is no such thing as a Higher Power. I will do it with me. Alone. I will do it with me.

I know it is almost time to meet Lilly. I stand and I walk down the hill past the screams along the buildings by the Unit. I walk back to the Trail and the Trail leads me to the point where I leave it and I push it aside until I am in the Clearing. She is there waiting for me. She is waiting for me walking toward me she kisses me kisses me kisses me. She pulls away and she smiles.

Hi.

I smile.

Hi.

Let’s sit.

Okay.

We sit.

I missed you.

I smile.

Good.

She smiles. It’s a sweet, subtle smile. The type of smile that would break your heart if you stared at it too long. She is still holding my hand and I am still calm and now I’m high. High on me and high on her. She speaks.

Can I kiss you again?

Yeah.

She leans. Kisses me kisses me I am high. She kisses me. She pulls away, speaks.

Tell me a story.

It’s your turn.

I want you to start.

Why?

Because you’re braver than me.

Why do you think that?

Just tell me a story.

What do you want to hear?

Tell me a story about love.

I’m no expert on love, but I’ll try.

Thanks.

I stare into her eyes. They are clear blue like water. They comfort me as if I’m thirsty. I speak.

I went to school with this Girl. I spent three years staring at her and thinking about her and waiting for her to talk to me. I knew she knew I stared at her, but if I was the first to talk, I knew she’d think I was crazy, so I let her be the first. My last year there we had some Classes together, and after the first day of the first Class, she waited for me and we had a short conversation. She asked why I stared at her and I told her what I had been waiting to tell since the first time I saw her, which was that she was the most beautiful Girl I had ever seen. She asked me if the stories she had heard about me were true and I told her that they probably were. We didn’t talk for a while after that, and I stopped staring at her, but I knew she’d miss my stares, and that sooner or later she’d come around to me. I was right. Two months into the semester she asked if I wanted to study for midterms with her. After we studied we went out for drinks with her friends. I didn’t bring any drugs with me and drank only enough to control my shakes and tremors and it went well.

We started hanging around together all the time, studying, walking to Class, eating lunch, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, doing whatever, and we became really close. My drinking slowed down to night hours only and I also stopped selling drugs.

I take a breath, look at the ground, remember. The memories are good ones, some of the few that I have. I look back at Lilly.

Christmas came around and she went home to Connecticut and I went to Brazil, where my Parents were living at the time. She gave me the number at her Parents’ place and told me to call her, and though I wanted to call, I never did. I figured it was better to let her miss me, the idea being that her missing me would somehow work to change things between us. I wanted more, much much more. I thought I would be happy if she loved me, I thought her love would help solve my problems, and mostly I loved her and I wanted her to feel the same thing I did.

Lilly smiles, shakes her head, speaks.

Bad move.

What?

Thinking love could solve your problems.

I nod.

Yeah.

You mad that I said that?

I shake my head.

Hard to be mad when something’s true.

She smiles.

I wanna hear the rest.

I chuckle.

When we got back to School, she asked why I didn’t call her. I told her I figured she was busy with her family and that I didn’t want to intrude. She smiled and told me that from now on I should intrude whenever I felt like it. I smiled and tried to be calm, but I wasn’t calm. My heart started thumping and my hands started shaking. She didn’t say it, but I knew. She had missed me.

A couple days later we went to a Bar to meet some of her friends. She sat closer to me than she normally did, laughed a little louder at my stupid jokes, touched me more affectionately on my leg, my shoulder, the back of my neck, my hand. She touched and treated me like I was her boyfriend, and I loved it.

About an hour after we got there, some Cops walk in with a Guy I’d never seen before. These were Small-Town Cops, fat stupid Assholes with mustaches and beer guts and guns and badges. I knew them and they knew me. In the years I had spent in that Town, I had openly taunted them and had dared them to try and catch me on something, which they never had. Now they had this new Guy, and they marched up to me, full of bullshit Cop bravado, and they pulled out a warrant, and they said I had to come down to the Station with them to answer some questions. They said there was another team of People searching my House with dogs. I laughed and told them to get the fuck out of my face, and the new Guy pulled out his badge and said Son, I am with the FBI and your number is up, and he grabbed me and hauled my ass out of there. He did it right in front of her, and did it right in front of her friends. I was fucking humiliated. After years of being in love with this Girl, I was sure she would never speak to me again.

The car ride down to the Station was bullshit. I sang the National Anthem at the top of my lungs, and in between renditions, asked the Cops when we were stopping for pie. The questioning session was even more ridiculous. The FBI Agent kept asking me about my trips to Brazil, which had nothing to do with drugs, and about who I knew in South America, and I just alternated answers. I won’t speak until I have a Lawyer. Your mustache makes you look like a fucking idiot. Eventually the Search Team came back and they hadn’t found anything at my House because there was nothing left to find, and they had to let me go. I walked out, and on my way, I told every Cop I saw to go fuck himself.

Lilly laughs.

What’d they say?

A couple ignored me, a couple said it back, one threw a cup of coffee at me.

Did it hit you?

No.

Did you go see the Girl?

When I came out the front door, she was sitting on the bumper of her car waiting for me.

She upset?

I nod.

Yeah. She had been crying.

What’d you do?

She was smoking a cigarette and staring at the ground and she didn’t see me, so I walked up to her and I asked her if she was waiting for someone. She looked up and smiled and threw her arms around me and cried on my shoulder. When she was done crying, she asked if I was in trouble and I said no and she asked if I was all right and I said yes. Then she looked me in the eye and she took my hand and she said if we’re going to be together, I have to be with the Person I know, not the Person I have heard stories about. I can’t deal with Police and the drugs and the drinking and whatever else you’ve got going on, so make up your mind right now about who you’re going to be. I smiled and I said I want to be the kind of Person that you would be proud to be with. I’m going to do everything I can to be that Person. If you can deal with that, just nod. If you can’t, just walk away. If you nod, though, I’m going to kiss you, right here and right now and right on the lips, and that kiss will be my pledge to you that I’ll make myself better.

She stared at me and she smiled and she nodded and I took my hands from her hands and I put them on her cheeks and I kissed her and for a while, at least, that kiss changed me, and for a while, at least, she and I were in love.

And then you fucked it up?

Yeah.

What did you do?

I don’t want to talk about that right now.

Why?

Just don’t.

What do you want to do?

I want to kiss you again.

Because you’re thinking of her?

No, because I’m thinking of you.

Lilly smiles and she lets go of my hands and she puts her arms around me and she holds me and she softly kisses the skin of my neck. I feel safe in her arms, safe like I have never felt, and the calm and the power of the calm is still with me. She raises her head slightly she raises it and she softly kisses my lips and pulls me tighter I have never felt so safe and so calm. In her arms. Kissing her.

She lets go and she pulls away. She smiles at me and she runs one of her hands down one of my cheeks.

I wish I was her.

Why?

Because it would be nice to have someone feel that way about me.

You’ve never been in love?

Not even close.

And no one’s ever been in love with you?

Men always want to fuck me, but no one has ever loved me.

I don’t believe that.

It’s true.

I don’t believe it.

She stares at me.

It’s true.

I stare back.

If it makes any difference, I don’t want to fuck you.

She laughs.

Thanks.

I think you’re beautiful, but I wouldn’t fuck you because when we were done, I wouldn’t want you to feel fucked. I would try to make love to you, and I would probably be clumsy and awkward, but when it was over, I would want you to feel loved.

She smiles.

Thank you, James.

I smile.

Thank you, Lilly.

We smile at each other and we look into each other’s eyes and we speak to each other with the silence that lies between us. It is strong, safe and calm. The silence between us.

Lilly looks down at her watch.

It’s getting late.

Yeah.

Meet me tomorrow?

I don’t know.

Why?

I don’t know if I can.

You getting scared?

A little, but that’s not why I can’t meet you.

What’s the reason?

My Parents are coming here tomorrow. I have to do the Family Program with them and I don’t know how much free time I have.

You excited?

No.

Why?

I don’t get along with my Parents, and I don’t want them here.

Adjust your attitude, Boy.

I laugh.

What?

I said adjust your attitude, Boy.

What are you talking about?

You’re fucking lucky to have Parents. You’re even luckier if they actually love you. If they’re willing to take time out of their lives to come here to try and understand why you are the way you are and to try to learn to help you, then you hit the fucking jackpot. Be cool to them and try understand how they must feel having to come here to see you and how upset they must be about it.

They’ve always been upset with me. That’s part of the problem.

From what I know about you, they probably had every right to be.

Maybe.

Maybe nothing. Adjust your fucking attitude and try to be cool with them and remember how lucky you are to even have them.

I look down, stare at the ground, nod. She grabs my chin and she lifts my face back to hers.

I want you to say okay dearest Lilly, I’ll try to be cool to my Parents.

I smile.

You getting tough with me?

She nods.

I’m a Badass, Boy. Don’t fucking forget it.

I laugh.

Okay dearest Lilly. I’ll try to be cool to my Parents.

She laughs.

Thank you.

I stare at her, let my smile fade it won’t fade inside. I have never felt so safe or calm. This hard, damaged, drug-Addicted Badass Girl sitting in front of me with her black hair and her braided pigtails and her clear water blue eyes and her scars her scars the scars on her wrist naked beneath a plastic watch makes me feel safe and calm.

I want to see you tomorrow, but I don’t know what this thing with my Parents is going to be like. When you go to lunch, sit so you can see into the Men’s Section. If my back is turned, I can’t meet you. If I’m facing you, I can meet you, and the number of plates on my tray is the time I’ll be here.

What if you can’t come till midnight?

Then I’m going to look like a fucking idiot.

She laughs.

Kiss me before you go.

I lean in and I kiss her, kiss her lips soft and wet and warm. I put my arms around her and I hold her tight this little Badass friend of mine.

She pulls away and we stand. She speaks.

Have a good night.

I will.

She turns and she starts to walk away. I speak.

Lilly.

She stops and she looks back.

What?

I’ll miss you.

She smiles.

Good.

She turns back and she disappears into the green. I turn the opposite way and I push through and I come out on a Trail and I walk slowly back slowly back. I feel safe and calm and I want this feeling for as long as I can have it. I stop outside the glass door to the Unit. I stare through the glass at the men they are not safe or calm. They are watching television, playing cards, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. They are talking shit and telling stories. They are neither safe nor calm. Addictions need fuel. They’re filling up.

I know I can’t keep feeling this way, it will disappear sooner or later. I choose sooner and I open the door and I step inside the Unit. I walk to my Room. The door is closed so I knock softly there is no reply. I open the door and I step inside Miles is sitting on his bed. His face is in his hands and he is weeping. I am sure that he heard me come in, but he doesn’t acknowledge me. His face is in his hands and he is weeping.

I step back the way I came and I shut the door. I am in the Hall and the lights are on and the walls are white and I wish they were blue clear water blue.

I walk to the Dining Hall. I am early and it is empty. I get a tray and a plate of fish sticks and tartar sauce and I choose a table and I sit down. I start eating. I eat slowly. The fish sticks are warm and soggy, the breaded crust around them tastes like wet sand. With each bite a part of me flares and wants more wants the whole stick at once it screams and begs for five hundred sticks at once sandy crust and all. It doesn’t matter how disgusting they are I just fucking want them. I sit and I breathe and I clench my jaw. I stare straight ahead. One bite at a time. Hold on. One bite at a time. It’s not that hard. One bite at a time. They’re fucking fish sticks. Just hold on.

I finish eating. Men start trickling in, they do not sit with me. I want more food, a lot more food, but I don’t get up from the table. I just sit and I hold, sit and hold, sit and hold. I am aware that the battle I am fighting is a petty one, but I am also aware that in order to win that which is great, you must first win that which is small. An addiction is an addiction and a fight is a fight. The same principles apply. Just hold on.

I see Leonard coming off the line. He has beef and noodles instead of fish sticks. He smiles and he nods at me and he comes to my table and sits down. He is freshly showered and his hair is wet and his face is flushed.

How ya doing, Kid?

I’m good. You?

I’ve had a very good day.

Why?

None of your business.

Why?

Stop asking why.

Can I ask what?

Maybe.

What do you do for a living, Leonard?

He laughs.

You know what I do, Kid.

I want to hear you say it.

Somebody been talking to you?

Yeah.

They talked to me too.

What’d they say?

They said they didn’t want me being a bad influence on you.

I told them you weren’t.

Thank you.

What do you do for a living, Leonard?

You already know, Kid.

I want to hear you say it.

Leonard takes a bite of his beef and noodles. He smiles while he chews.

I’m the West Coast Director of a large Italian Finance Firm.

I laugh.

Need to know anything else?

No.

That’s probably best.

Yeah.

You see your Girlfriend today?

Yeah.

You admit she’s your Girlfriend now?

Sort of.

She good?

Yeah, she is.

You like her?

I do.

You love her?

In a way.

Watch your step, Kid. They asked me about her too.

How would they know about her?

They know everything.

How?

It’s not hard to know things if you want to know them.

I guess.

You know what I think?

What?

I think love is a rare thing in the World. If you think you can have it with this Girl, then fuck whoever tries to stop you and fuck their Rules. Take the risk and do whatever you can do and try not to get caught. If you do get caught, do it again.

I laugh.

You’re being a bad influence, Leonard.

He smiles.

No, I’m not, Kid.

I smile. Leonard smiles. We eat silently nobody sits with us. We finish dinner and we walk to the Lecture and we sit with Ed and Ted and Matty in the same seats we always sit in with them. We play cards and the results are back to normal. Leonard wins, everyone else loses. The stakes are small enough so that no one cares time is slow in here the game just helps the time go by faster. We know Leonard will split the winnings when we’re done. Win a couple bucks, lose a couple bucks. Ignore whoever is on the Stage. I don’t even bother looking anymore.

The Lecture ends and we walk back to the Unit. I get a cup of coffee and I find a place on one of the couches among several other men and I watch TV. There is a show on about a group of Doctors working in an inner-city Emergency Room. One of the stories on the show is about a Female Heroin Addict who has come to the Hospital after an overdose.

She is a beautiful young woman whose body is absent of any bruises, scars or track marks. She wears dirty clothes that are ragged in a glamorous way. She cries whenever anyone talks to her and there are large, black bags under her eyes, though her crying is obviously fake and the bags under her eyes are a different size each time we see her. She started smoking pot on a lark, met a man and fell in love, and the man happened to be a heroin Dealer who got her hooked on his product. Now she can’t quit, and after loading up a particularly large dose, she has woken up and found herself in the ER, which is the only part of the story which is even reasonably authentic. She refuses to accept any blame for the situation. She yells it wasn’t my fault over and over and over.

As we watch the show, some of the men boo when the Girl makes her appearances, a couple of them clap and laugh, one of them grunts and throws his shoe at the TV, which he then retrieves and holds cocked in his hand until she shows up again. If he had a gun, he would probably blow the television to pieces.

As the episode drags on, the Girl confronts her problems with the help of a handsome young Doctor in the ER. He eases her off the junk, he gets her in AA. He lets her stay in his apartment, comforts her when she cries, brings home special nutritional juices for her each night after work. They fall in love and after an emotional candlelit dinner, they have glorious, romantic and multi-orgasmic sex. By the time the show is finished, she is all better. She has kicked her habit completely and she has a new life. It closes with a shot of her and the Doctor walking down the Street with a young Golden Retriever frolicking at their side.

If I could, I would hunt down the Creators of this utter bullshit fantasy fairy-tale piece of crap and I would lock them in a room and feed them drugs until they were profoundly and chronically Addicted to them. Then I would overdose them, drive them to the nearest inner-city ER, and I would drop them off at the door, right next to the homeless Guys with knives, the Addicts with AIDS and the Cops and the Ambulance Drivers smoking cigarettes. I’d leave them there for a couple of days, and then I’d come back and check on them. If they were still alive or still around, which would be highly unlikely, I’d ask them if their experience has in any way whatsoever resembled the experience they presented to the Public. I’d ask them if they were through detoxification and if they were feeling good. I’d ask them if they had been to their first AA Meeting and if they had found new Jobs and if they had found new Apartments. I’d ask them if they had fallen in love over a candlelit dinner and if they had the best sex of their lives. I’d ask them if they had purchased their new Golden Retrievers. After I received their answers, no no no please what I do now no fuck me I’m fucked no please help me no no no no, I’d ask them how they were going to present addiction to the Public in the future. I’d ask them if they were going to romanticize it, glorify it, make light of it or portray in a way that is wholly inaccurate. No no no please what I do now no fuck me I’m fucked no please help me no no no no. That’s what I thought, you Motherfuckers. No.

After the show I stand and I walk to my Room. I have not seen Miles since I saw him earlier and I stop and I put my ear to the door before I reach to open it. I hear weeping, soft quiet sobs, mumbled words spoken to the air, a fist pounding a pillow. I would like to be in my bed, under the covers and warm, but I do not want to disturb him, so I let go of the door and I walk back to the Unit.

I get another cup of coffee and I go back to the couch. The Lower Level is empty but for me and two men. I don’t know them and I don’t speak to them. There is a talk show on the TV and a Movie Star is talking about his love for automobile racing and the Host of the show pretends to be interested in what he’s saying. He smiles, nods when he needs to nod, accentuates the Movie Star’s remarks with witty responses. The audience of the show is enraptured, and though I know the show is idiotic, I am enraptured as well. I am an Alcoholic and a drug Addict. I need fuel. I’ll take what I can get.

I drink another cup of coffee, watch another talk show, fade in and out of sleep. Coffee doesn’t affect me anymore and the TV is a narcotic. Its dull flicker feeding me filling me killing me keeping me holding me here and giving me something on which to focus. The two men on the couches next to me are both sound asleep. One of them is twitching and moaning, softly crying a word all too common he cries stop stop stop. The other is snoring and still. I’d think he was dead but for the noise. I fade in and out.

The TV is narcotic.

In and out.

In.

Out.

In.

Out.


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