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A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: Chapter 14


A man selling hair-growth products screams buy buy buy it’ll grow grow grow. The head of hair that you’ve always dreamed of. I can give it to you if you buy buy buy it’ll grow grow grow. He is standing on a beach. There are beautiful blondes on each of his arms. He is wearing a cheap suit.

I turn him off. I walk to my Room and I open the door. I step inside. Miles is awake, sitting on his bed. He is reading the Bible. He nods to me and I nod to him. I climb into my bed and I settle beneath the blankets and I curl into myself.

I wake up. There is gray light through the window I squint to avoid it. The first thought I have is of my Parents. I’m fucking pissed.

I get out bed, shower, shave, brush my teeth. The mirror, myself, my eyes, they are not a consideration today. Not even close.

As I get dressed, Miles walks in carrying two cups of coffee. He hands one of them to me.

I brought you a cup of coffee.

Thanks.

You like it black, right?

Yeah.

I take a sip, set the mug on the nightstand next to my bed, continue dressing. Miles walks to his bed and he sits down and he speaks.

I appreciate you allowing me to have the Room yesterday.

Don’t mention it.

I was grappling with some things.

You all right now?

I’m better.

There is dense silence. A moment. Miles looks down at the floor, back at me.

It was shame, James.

What?

I am dealing with feelings of great shame, James. That’s why I was in here all day yesterday. It was shame.

You ever need someone to talk about it, I’ll do my best.

Thank you, James. I know you will.

I finish dressing, sit down on my bed. Miles is staring at the floor.

You okay?

He nods. He does not look okay.

I stand, walk over to him, sit down on his bed, put my arms around him, hug him. He hugs me back strong and I can feel the shame coming through his arms. I am a Criminal and he is a Judge and I am white and he is black, but at this moment none of that matters. He is a man who needs a friend and I can be his friend. I wait for him to release me, wait for him to get rid of whatever it is, and after a couple of long minutes he does. I stand and I speak.

You need anything, come find me. I’m not good for much, but I’ll do my best.

He nods.

Thank you, James.

I walk out of the Room and into the Hall and the Hall brings back my anger. Anger because my Parents are here. Anger because I don’t want to see them. I walk into the Unit and I go to do the coffee, but the coffee has been done. I look at the Job Board. The space next to my name reads Family.

I leave the Unit and I walk to the Dining Hall. I get a tray, a plate, a breakfast burrito. I sit down at an empty table. I’m angry and I want to be alone.

I eat quickly. The burrito is stuffed with eggs, bacon, cheese and small clumps of unidentifiable vegetables. It is disgusting, but I eat it anyway. I’d like to eat a hundred of them. The anger is becoming Fury. The Fury is rising.

I finish eating and I leave and I head toward the Lecture Hall. There are men ahead of me and men behind me. I pay them no mind. I just walk. Joanne is waiting for me at the door to the Lecture Hall. She asks me to come to her Office. We walk through the Halls side by side.

How are you today, James?

Fine.

You seem angry.

I am.

Why?

Because I am.

We arrive at her Office. We step inside. She sits in the chair, I sit on the couch.

Your Parents arrived here early this morning. They’ve been settling in at the Family Center. We have a meeting with them in a few minutes.

Great.

You’re not happy about this, are you?

No.

Why?

Because I don’t want to deal with them.

Why?

They make me angry.

Why?

I don’t know why.

There must be specific reasons.

Whatever reasons there are, they’re bullshit. Things like them hassling me or being worried about me, stupid shit that I’ve always deserved.

Do you think your feelings have any real validity?

I don’t know.

How long have you had them?

I’ve been pissed at my Parents for as long as I can remember.

Maybe we can figure out why that is while they’re here.

I doubt it.

Keep in mind that they’re here because they love you and want to help you. This is not an easy thing for them.

I’ll try.

We usually start by sitting everyone down in a Room. If your Parents are going to understand where you are and what they can do to help to you, they need to know what you’ve been doing and to what extent you’ve been doing it. We would like you to tell them.

That’s gonna be a fucking nightmare.

Why do you think that?

My Parents know I drink too much, and they know I do drugs, but they have no idea how much, and they don’t know anything about my legal problems.

How do they not know?

I never told them.

Do you think they’re going to react poorly?

I laugh.

Poorly doesn’t describe how I think they’re going to react.

Whatever their reaction is, we’ll deal with it. That’s why they’re here, that’s why we’re here.

I guess.

I think you’re going to be surprised.

I highly fucking doubt it.

She looks at her watch.

We should go.

She stands. I stand.

Okay.

She opens the door and we leave her Office and we start walking through the Halls. They are bright and they make me angry, with each step I get more and more angry. I don’t want to see my Parents. I don’t want to be in the same Room with them. I don’t want to speak to them, I don’t want them to speak to me. This is how I’ve always felt. They’re my Parents. I don’t want them anywhere near me.

My hands start shaking and my heart starts beating like a Cannon on a Field of War. Joanne senses this and she takes my hand the hand closest to her and she holds it and she smiles. I try to smile back, but I can’t smile. The Fury is rising. I don’t want to see my Parents.

We arrive at a door. Joanne knocks and a voice says come in. She looks at me and she squeezes my hand tight. I stare at the ground. I’m shaking and my heart my heart my heart. I look up and I take a deep breath and I nod. Joanne opens the door.

We step inside. My Mother and my Father are sitting at a conference table on the opposite side of the Room. I’m shaking. They are with a completely bald man in his thirties who is wearing a black sweater and black jeans. My heart my heart my heart. As he turns to look at me, my Mother stands. She is wearing khakis and a white shirt and a blue blazer and a silk paisley scarf and her hair is perfect and her makeup is perfect and there are diamonds on her fingers and there are diamonds in her ears. She rushes toward me. The Fury is rising. I want to get the fuck out of here. I want out out out.

James.

She hugs me. I don’t like it when she touches me and I don’t hug her back. She lets me go, but she keeps her hands on my shoulders.

You look great.

I want her hands gone.

You’re gaining weight.

Her eyes away.

And your face and teeth are better. You look so much better.

She hugs me again. I want her away. Get the fuck away.

Oh, James.

She lets go of me, stares. My Father steps forward. Khakis, blue oxford, blue blazer. A large, expensive watch. He hugs me. I want him away.

How are you, James?

He lets me go.

I’m fine.

You look much better.

I guess so.

Joanne steps forward.

Mr. Frey?

She reaches to shake his hand. He takes it.

Call me Bob.

Joanne nods.

Bob, I’m Joanne. I’m a Psychologist who has been working with your Son.

Dad smiles.

He looks better.

Joanne smiles.

He is better, and he’s on the road toward getting much better.

Dad smiles.

We’re very proud of him for coming here.

Joanne smiles.

You should be.

He nods, looks at me. I look away. Joanne speaks.

Why don’t we sit, get started.

My Mother smiles and she nods. My Father says okay. They take their seats the same seats. I sit on the far side of the table as far away as possible. I hold my hands in my lap they are shaking. I stare straight ahead stare at the surface of a bright white wall. Joanne sits between us, looks at the man in black and nods. The man speaks.

Hi, James. My name is Daniel, and I’m a Counselor at the Family Center.

I stare at the wall.

I’m going to be working with you and your Parents while they’re here.

My hands are shaking.

As I believe you know, we like to start our work in the Family Program by having the individual with Chemical Dependency issues talk to the Family Members about their habits and their use.

My heart my heart my heart. Like a Cannon on a Field of War.

We’d like you to be as honest as possible and you should take as much time as you need.

I nod.

Start whenever you’d like.

I look straight across the table. My Mother and Father are waiting for me.

Before I start, I just want to say that I don’t want to do this, and I wish you hadn’t come here, and I’m sorry you have to hear what I’m about to tell you.

My Father nods and he squeezes my Mother’s hand.

I’ve have been drinking for as long as I can remember. As a young kid, I used to steal sips from beers at football games we went to together and drink leftover glasses of wine at your dinner parties. I don’t know why I did it, I just did. It made me feel better about myself for some reason, and I liked it, liked it more than anything I had ever experienced. I did it as much and as often as I could, which was fairly often. We went to a lot of football games and you guys had a lot of parties. I got drunk for the first time when I was ten. You were out at the symphony or at some charity function and I snuck out of the House without the baby-sitter knowing and I went down the street to a party some High School Kids were having. They thought it was cool that I was there and they fed me drinks till I threw up. I stumbled Home and the baby-sitter was asleep and I went to bed.

My Mother wipes her eyes, my Father squeezes her hand.

I smoked pot for the time at twelve. Same thing. I snuck out to a party and the older Kids gave it to me. I didn’t like it much, but I liked that they thought I was cool. I did it as much as I could, and because you guys were out or away a lot, it was easy to do. The baby-sitters never gave two shits and sometimes they did it with me.

My Mother holds a hand to her face, my Father looks down at the table.

I blacked out for the first time at fourteen. I was drinking and smoking in the basement of someone’s house and the next thing I knew it was morning and I was Home. By then I was getting fucked up three or four times a week. At fifteen I started using harder stuff, coke and acid and crystal meth. I liked all of them more than pot, so I stopped smoking it, and it’s the only drug I’ve ever quit using. I was also selling drugs and liquor at fifteen. I’d go into the Ghetto over in the Harbor and meet up with this guy named Freddy. He was a low-level dealer and if I gave him a couple bucks, he’d get me whatever I wanted. People knew I could get shit, so they gave me rides. The deal was they had to buy me something too. When I couldn’t get rides, I took your car. When I didn’t have money, Freddy gave me credit. He liked me and called me White Boy James, and I became known over there as that. It was fucking stupid and dangerous, but I liked it, thought it was cool, and it allowed me to get anything I wanted whenever I wanted it. I wanted it all the time.

My Mother starts crying, my Father stares at me.

Sixteen and seventeen were more of the same. I bought and sold liquor and drugs, did as much as I could of whatever I could get. I got fucked up before school, during school, after school. I got fucked up every single day. I drank and mostly used meth, and when I had that overdose, that’s what it was, meth and alcohol. I don’t know how much I did because I was blacked out. You never knew what went wrong because I refused to talk to the Doctors. I know you’re sitting there thinking you should have known more and you should have stopped me, but I hid things well and you tried, you tried hard. If you remember, you threatened me with Rehab a bunch of times and I told you if you sent me, I’d walk out and you’d never see or hear from me again. At the time, I would have done it. There was nothing you could have done to change me. I wouldn’t have stopped.

I take a deep breath. My Mother has moved closer to my Father and is sobbing into her own hands. I can see her makeup streaking through her fingers. My Father is staring at me and his eyes are wet. I have never seen him cry before, never seen him even close.

Eighteen. Same thing, but more. Went away to school in the Fall. No Rules, you weren’t around, I got a monthly allowance. I was in Heaven. I blacked out every night, always had a bloody nose from snorting coke all the time, pissed in my bed three or four times a week because I was too drunk to get out of bed. Nineteen, same thing, but probably worse. At twenty I started smoking coke. I used all the money you gave me to buy it and sell it. The FBI started investigating me for dealing and I got questioned by them at the local Police Station five or six times. They never got me on anything. Twenty-one. Bad year. I started smoking crack, which I loved. I smoked it as much as I could, which was basically every day. Crack is a bad drug, and it fucked me up. I was throwing up blood, pissing blood, shitting blood. I was sick all the time. I don’t really know how I managed it, but I finished school and you guys got me that job and sent me to Europe. I know you did it because you thought it would be good for me to have a job and good for me to be away, but it wasn’t. I didn’t really have to work and I spent all of my time getting hammered and getting in trouble. There was no crack over there, but there was freebase, and there was powder, and I did a lot of both of them.

Mother sobs in her hands, tears run down Father’s cheeks. He does not wipe them, just stares at me.

While I was there I came back to see my Girlfriend from college. I know you remember her, because you liked her so much, and you had hoped things would work out between us. We had broken up at the end of school and had then reconciled through letters and the phone, and she was planning on coming over and living with me. I was excited about it, and I sort of thought of it as a last chance at redeeming myself. I knew if she came over I would have to straighten up because she was sick of dealing with my shit. I was hopeful and it was good and I was so excited that I broke one of my Rules, which was never call her when I was drunk. Three nights in a row I called and I don’t know what I said because I was blacked out. When I called again on the fourth day, her Mom answered and told me never to call again, that she didn’t ever want to have anything to do with me. I freaked out and went on a nasty bender and then decided I would come back to the States because I knew she was planning to visit School to see some friends.

I can’t look at my Parents anymore, so I look at the table.

I flew from Paris to Chicago, drove from Chicago to Ohio. When I got there I stayed sober until I found her and when I found her, she wouldn’t talk to me. She told me to go away, that she never wanted to see me, speak to me or have anything to do with me ever again. I was crushed. I went out and I drank as much as I could and smoked as much crack as I could and when I was good and loaded, I decided to go find her and try to talk to her again. I went to a Bar where we used to hang out and where I knew she’d be. As I was driving up, I saw her standing out front with a few of her friends. I was staring at her and not paying attention to the road and I drove up onto a sidewalk and hit a Cop who was standing there. I didn’t hit him hard because I was only going about five miles an hour, but I hit him. She saw me do it, and a whole bunch of other people saw me do it. The Cop called for backup and I sat in the car and stared at her and waited. The backup came and they approached the car and asked me to get out and I said you want me out, then get me out, you fucking Pigs. They opened the door, I started swinging, and they beat my ass with billy clubs and arrested me. As they hauled me away kicking and screaming, I tried to get the crowd to attack them and free me, which didn’t happen. When I was sitting in the back of the cruiser, she walked up and looked at me and she was crying and I asked if she’d come Bail me out and she nodded and said yes, I’ll come. I stayed in Jail that night and I was arraigned the next morning on charges of Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Assaulting an Officer of the Law, Felony DUI, Disturbing the Peace, Resisting Arrest, Driving Without a License, Driving Without Insurance, Attempted Incitement of a Riot, Possession of a Narcotic with Intent to Distribute and Felony Mayhem. The only thing that was bullshit was the narc charge, and that was bullshit because I intended to use it, not distribute it. She didn’t show up, so a Buddy of mine paid my Bail on a credit card and I flew back to Paris. As far as I know, I am still wanted on all of the charges.

I look up. My Parents are both silent and they are both crying. Tears are running down their faces and my Mother’s breathing is labored. She breaks down and she starts sobbing. I wait for her to stop, but she doesn’t. She just sobs sobs sobs. My Father puts his arms around her and he whispers in her ear, quietly whispers, but it doesn’t do any good. My Mother sobs. I watch her and I wait for her to stop. It takes a lifetime. A fucking lifetime. When she is quiet, I speak again.

I stayed in Paris, got fucked up, knew I was killing myself and I didn’t care. From there I went to London and did the same thing. When I came back to the States and I went down to North Carolina, I started smoking crack again. Crack is an evil and dangerous drug and I smoked as much of it as I could get. I also drank as much as I could drink, which at this point is quite a bit. I don’t remember much of what I did down there because I was so fucked up all the time, but I know I got arrested again. I also know I got arrested in Michigan, though I have no idea what I was doing in Michigan. I skipped Bail in both places, so I guess I’m wanted there as well. For the last six months I’ve just been drinking and smoking and waiting to die.

My Mother is sobbing and my Father is holding her. I don’t wait for her this time, I just want this to end.

I don’t blame you for this, and I don’t think there’s anything you could have done to stop it. I am what I am, which is an Alcoholic and a drug Addict and a Criminal, and I am what I am because I made myself so. You did the best you could with me, and you loved me the best you could, and that’s all I could have ever asked for from you. I have no excuses for what I’ve done or for who I am or for what I’ve put you through all these years.

My Mother starts sobbing. Louder than before and more wrenching. Her makeup is smeared all over her hands and her face and her clothes, and she is having trouble breathing. She clings to my Father, who holds her and stares at the floor. Tears are running from his cheeks and dripping onto his pants, I can see that his lips are quivering. He shakes his head and he starts to look up at me, but he can’t do it.

I sit and watch them. The Fury is in me and has risen it is peaking. I don’t understand why this happens, but every time I’m near them, it does happen. They try to love me, I hurt them. They try to be decent and reasonable, I won’t be decent or reasonable. They try to help me, I resent them for it. I don’t understand why. They are my Parents. They are doing the best they can do.

This is how it has always been with me. Give me something good, I’ll destroy it. Love me, I’ll destroy you. I have never felt deserving of anything in my life. I have never felt as if I were worth the diseased space I occupy. This feeling has inhabited everything I’ve ever done, seen or had anything do with, and it has infected every relationship I have ever had with everyone I’ve ever known. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand why it’s here. I hate it as I hate myself, and for whatever the reason, my Parents’ presence has always made it worse. They are only trying to love me, but they have always made it fucking worse.

Joanne stands and she walks over to me and she leans to my ear.

I think we should go.

I look at my Parents. They are still crying. There are tears dripping from my Father’s face and my Mother is having trouble breathing. I would like to do something to make them feel better, but I’m incapable of it. I hate myself too much to do anything.

I stand and I walk out of the room. Joanne is holding the door open and she closes it behind me. As soon as it is shut and as soon as I can no longer see hear feel touch or hurt my Parents, I start to feel better.

We start walking. Joanne doesn’t speak and neither do I. We just walk through the Halls. I think about my Parents sitting in that Room crying because of me and we head toward Joanne’s Office. When we arrive, she opens the door. We walk inside and I sit down on the couch and she sits across from me.

How do feel?

Suicide.

What?

It’s the only word that fits.

You feel like killing yourself?

I won’t, but at this moment, it seems like a reasonable option.

Why?

They’re my Parents. When I’m near them I get so angry that I can’t control myself. That anger makes me hate myself more than I already do, and that makes suicide seem like a reasonable option.

Do you need supervision?

No, I’m too much of a pansy to actually do it.

You think suicide is an act of bravery?

No, I think it’s cowardly, just like I think addiction is cowardly. But I do think that they both require a certain kind of pathetic strength.

Strength?

You have to be fairly strong to feel anything as powerful as hatred or self-hatred. Addiction and suicide are not for the weak.

I think that’s ridiculous.

Ridiculous things can be true.

Why do your Parents make you so angry?

I don’t know.

Did you experience abuse as a child?

Not that I remember.

Do you think it’s possible?

No.

Why?

I grew up in a safe, sheltered environment. My Parents have always loved me and they’ve always tried to protect me and they’ve always tried to do their best by me. They fucking piss me off, but there is no way they ever abused me.

What about someone else?

No.

Are you sure?

Yes.

I pull a cigarette from my pocket, light it, take a drag. The nicotine slows my heart and calms me.

What next?

Lunch, and after that you go down to the Family Center. You’ll spend the afternoon in Group Sessions with the Members of other People’s Families until dinner. After dinner, we’ll sit down with your Parents again.

Why?

To discuss this morning.

That’ll be fun.

You were brave this morning. You were very honest and very straightforward and you said a lot of things that probably weren’t easy to say. Your Parents reacted in a very normal, natural way, and if they hadn’t reacted that way, I would be worried about our ability to make progress with them. Now that they know what they need to know, we can work on healing your wounds and figuring out how you can get along better.

When will we be done tonight?

Depends on what we get into with your Parents.

Give me an estimate.

You trying to meet up with Lilly?

What?

You heard me.

Yeah, I’m trying to meet up with Lilly.

Don’t.

Why?

If you get caught, you’ll be in serious trouble.

Sounds like I got caught already.

There is an idea that there is something going on. We have not caught you.

Where’d you get the idea?

I can’t discuss that with you.

You want me to discuss things with you, but you won’t discuss things with me. That’s fucking bullshit, Joanne.

You think so?

Yeah, I do. You be straight with me, I’ll be straight with you. That’s the fucking deal. If it’s not, you can go fuck yourself.

I’m not your enemy.

You are if you’re not straight with me.

Lilly is very smitten with you. One of the Counselors on her Unit overheard her talking to one of her Girlfriends about you. She has since heard Lilly talking about you a number of other times. It seems that you’re all that Lilly wants to talk about.

I smile.

Why are you smiling?

I like that she’s smitten with me.

It’s a bad idea, James.

Why?

You should be concentrating on what you’re here for, which is getting sober and rebuilding your life. Lilly is a distraction that takes you away from that. Both of you are very fragile and vulnerable right now, and if something went wrong between the two of you, it would jeopardize your sobriety.

I can handle it.

Overconfidence kills a lot of People.

She makes me feel good, better than I feel with anyone else.

I’m sure she does, but that doesn’t change our Policy.

I don’t want to let her go.

It’s in the best of interests of both of you.

I’ll take your advice under consideration.

Take it further than that.

I stand.

I’m going to eat.

She nods.

I’ll see you tonight.

I turn and I open her door and I walk out of Joanne’s Office. I go the Dining Hall. As I walk down the Glass Corridor separating the men from the women, I see Lilly sitting at a table. She is staring at me and I stare back, though I make no other sort of acknowledgment. It is hard to stare at her, hard because she’s not the distant Girl who smiles at me anymore. She has become more than that, more than I expected her to become and more than I was looking for her to become. She is becoming what I wanted she the last with the Arctic eyes to become, which is someone who loves me. Simply and truly and as I am. It is hard to stare at her because as I know she is starting to love me, I am starting to love her. I don’t care what she’s done or who she’s done it with, I don’t care about whatever demons may be in her closet. I care about how she makes me feel and she makes me feel strong and safe and calm and warm and true. It is hard to stare because I am forced to contemplate giving it up. It is hard to stare, but I do it anyway.

I get a tray and I get in line and I get a plate of tuna noodle casserole. I ask for ten, but the Lady in the hairnet says no. I go to the Salad Bar and I get five plates. I put lettuce on one, cottage cheese on another, beets on the third, niblets of corn on the fourth, croutons on the fifth. My tray is full so I get another tray. I put four plates on it, each piled high with portions of pudding, peaches, slices of apple pie and carrot cake. I walk slowly through the Dining Area carrying both trays. They’re heavy and I hear a couple of snickers and I hear a couple of laughs. A voice I don’t know says that’s a sad addiction. I chuckle. I find my friends Ed and Ted and Leonard and Matty and Miles and I sit down with them. Leonard speaks.

Where you been all day?

My Parents are here.

Miles speaks.

Are they here for the Family Program?

Yeah.

How has it been?

Shitty.

Why?

I had to do this confession thing this morning where I told them about all the bad shit I’ve done.

Ed speaks.

What didn’t they know about?

They didn’t know much.

What was the worst?

The crack, and the fact that I’m wanted in three states.

Leonard speaks.

What are you wanted for?

A bunch of shit.

Miles speaks.

Do you have warrants out against you, James?

Yes.

Where?

Michigan, Ohio and North Carolina.

Are you doing anything to take care of them?

Somebody here is trying to do something.

Ted speaks.

When I told my Mamma I smoked the rock she asked if I could get her some.

Everyone laughs.

She did. She said I been hearing all about this crack stuff and I wanna try me some. I got a fifty bag and I smoked with her till her eyes were in the back of her head. She didn’t want no more after that.

Everyone laughs again, though the image of Ted’s Mamma with her eyes in the back of her head is not a funny one. We spend the rest of lunch laughing more, mostly at Matty, who is still struggling to stop swearing. Every third or fourth word he speaks is either goddamn or fuck and is immediately followed by a string of other curses which are directed at himself. Eventually he just stops speaking entirely. By the time lunch is over, the men have devoured the food on all of my plates everything is gone. As we stand to leave, I look across the Dining Hall and through the glass at Lilly. She is smiling at me and the smile hurts. I will not could not don’t want to give that smile up. I won’t give it up. No fucking way.

We walk out of the Dining Hall. My friends head toward the Lecture, I walk through Halls into areas I don’t know, following signs that lead me to the Family Center. I arrive at a door. A sign on the door says Welcome Home. I open it and I go inside.

The white walls are whiter the lightbulbs brighter the paintings hanging happier. They are filled with scenes of Families on picnics in wide open fields of green and wildflowers. The members of the Families in the paintings are smiling, eating French bread, cutting fruit and playing backgammon. Variations of them are along all of the walls. I follow them and they take me to a large open Room. On one side of the Room, the entire wall is glass and it looks out upon the Lake. There are chairs in the Room chairs everywhere. Large plush chairs that look comfortable in their happy patterned upholstery. There are People sitting in the chairs they are talking, smoking, drinking coffee and waiting. Waiting for their Family Members and waiting to get better.

It is easy to tell who is here as part of the Family Program and who is here as part of their own Program. The Family Program People wear cleaner clothes have better haircuts nicer watches sparkling jewelry. Their skin is more flush, their bodies glow, they have flesh on their bones. They have life in their eyes. The rest of us smoke cigarettes and drink cups of coffee, our hands shake and we have bags under our eyes. We move slowly and the only thing alive in our eyes is dread.

I look around the Room. My Parents are huddled in a corner softly speaking to each other. They see me. I hold up one finger and my Father nods at me and I go to the coffee machine. I get a cup, black and steaming, and I walk toward them.

They stand as I approach. They are smiling and they have changed their clothes, though the clothes are more or less the same. My Mother has redone her hair and her makeup and it is perfect again and my Father’s blazer is crisply pressed. I can see the effort behind their smiles and with each step closer, I want to turn and run. My Father speaks.

How are you, James?

Been better. You?

I think we’ve been better too.

There is silence, smiling. I wish the smiling would stop. My Mother speaks.

Do you want to sit with us?

I nod, we sit. They are side by side, I am across from them. There is a table between us, it has an ashtray. I reach into my pocket for my cigarettes and I take them out. My Mother frowns.

Could you not smoke, please?

Why?

Because I just changed my clothes and I don’t want them to smell.

Fine.

I put the cigarettes back into my pocket. My Mother watches me.

Are you going to quit those things while you’re here?

No.

Why?

Because I don’t want to quit these things.

Why not?

I’ll give you a choice, Mom. I can either smoke cigarettes or smoke crack. You make the call.

She recoils, obviously hurt. I knew it would happen, but I did it anyway. My Father speaks.

I don’t think you need to speak to your Mother that way, James. Obviously we’d rather have you smoke cigarettes than smoke crack.

Then don’t give me shit about it.

Don’t speak to us that way.

I reach for my cup of coffee and I drink it in one gulp. It’s hot and steaming and it burns my mouth, but I don’t care. I pull the cup away and I speak.

I’m gonna get some more coffee. You want some?

My Father looks at my Mother. My Mother shakes her head no and her expression tells me she’s still hurt. My Father looks back at me.

I think we’re fine.

I stand and I walk back to the coffee machine. As I fill my cup, a tall and thin man dressed like my Father rings a bell hanging near the door. Everyone turns toward him. He tells us that we’re going to split into groups and that the groups will meet in separate Rooms. He points to a pair of doors against the wall opposite the glass wall and he starts reading names. When People hear their names called, they stand and they go through the doors. As I walk back to the corner where my Parents are sitting, the man says my name. I continue toward my Parents and when I reach them, I speak.

Looks like I’ve got to go.

My Father nods, my Mother looks like she’s going to cry. I turn and I start to walk away. My Father speaks.

James?

I turn around.

We’re sorry about the smoking remarks.

My Mother nods. Tears start running down her cheeks.

We know you’ve got a lot that you’re trying to deal with right now and we know you’re doing the best you can, so if you need to, it’s okay if you smoke around us.

I smile. This simple gesture breaks my heart.

Thank you.

My Father smiles, and beneath her tears, my Mother smiles. Her smile makes me feel a little better.

I’ll see you tonight.

I turn and I walk to my door. I walk through it and I enter another large Room. It is white, bright and cheery. There are inspirational pictures on the walls with phrases like Take It Day by Day, Let Go and Let God, Easy Does It. There is thick carpet on the floor and there are folding chairs spread in a wide circle around the Room. There are People sitting in the chairs. I find an empty chair without anybody on either side of it and I sit down. I am alone for a moment, but then a pregnant woman sits on one side of me and a gray-haired man sits on the other. The Room fills up, and for every Patient here there are about three Family Members. Everyone looks nervous.

A woman walks in she’s in her thirties wearing khakis and Birkenstocks and wool socks and a chorded sweater. She has brown hair, green eyes and looks as if she could be a model. She sits in the only empty chair in the circle and she smiles.

Welcome to your first Group Session at the Family Program.

There are nods, a couple People say thank you.

What we’re going to do in this session is introduce ourselves and ask each other questions. Family Members often ask those of us in recovery about what we do or why we do what we do or what it feels like to do it, those of us in recovery often ask Family Members how our actions affect them or how they feel when they’re dealing with us or why they deal with us in the ways they do or why they deal with us at all. You should feel free to ask whatever you want, as long as it’s not intended to hurt someone’s feelings. I’ll start with the introductions.

She smiles.

My name is Sophie, and I’m an Addict and an Alcoholic.

Everyone says Hello, Sophie. The man sitting next to her smiles, speaks.

I’m Tony, and I’m the Husband of an Alcoholic.

Everyone says Hello, Tony, and the introductions move around the Room. Mother of a Heroin Addict, Meth Addict, Wife of a Crack Addict, Alcoholic, Son and Daughter of an Alcoholic, Vicadin Addict, Pregnant Wife of a Crack Addict. There are all types of relations, all types of Addicts and Alcoholics. After the introductions, the questions are supposed to start. At first, no one speaks. People stare at the floor, stare at their hands, stare at each other. There are awkward smiles and frustrated sighs. After a few moments, a man who identified himself as a Meth Addict asks how long this session is going to last. Everyone laughs. A woman who identified herself as the Wife of an Alcoholic asks the same thing. How long does this last? Sophie smiles and asks her if she’s referring to addiction. The woman nods and says yes. Sophie says addiction lasts a lifetime. It lasts a lifetime.

From there the questions start to flow. How does it feel to be Addicted to something. Horrible. Why does it feel that way. Because we know what we’re doing to ourselves and what we’re doing to you and we can’t stop doing it. What does it feel like when you want it. Need, overwhelming need, uncontrollable need, unimaginable need. What does it feel like when you get it. Relief, followed by horror, followed by more need. Why can’t you stop. I don’t know. Why can’t you stop. I don’t know. Why can’t you stop. I don’t know.

There are other simpler, more technical questions. What is crack and how do you use it. Crack is cocaine cooked with ethyl alcohol, gas and baking powder. We smoke it with a pipe. Where do you buy heroin and how much does it cost. You buy heroin from a dealer and it is very expensive. What is meth and how is it made. Meth is speed and it is made by cooking asthma medicine called ephedrine, formaldehyde, sometimes gas or fertilizer, and baking powder. What does it do to you. Robs you of your heart, robs you of your soul, takes away the ability and the desire to eat and to sleep, robs you of your sanity.

The Addicts and Alcoholics give straight, simple answers. We ask no questions. Unlike the Family Members, we already know the answers. We fuck up your lives. We ruin every single one of your days. We are your worst nightmare. You don’t know what to do with us. You’re at the end of your rope. You don’t know what to do. You’re at the end of your fucking rope. You don’t know what to do.

At the end of the Session, Sophie asks everyone to join hands. An intimacy has developed and we do so eagerly. She has us recite a poem that she calls the Serenity Prayer. She says a line and we follow. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She smiles we smile everyone smiles. When we finish saying the prayer, she has us do it again. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She has us do it again and again.

When she stands, everyone else stands. She tells us we’re finished and everyone starts hugging each other. There are hugs sealing the bonds hugs healing the wounds hugs in appreciation of knowledge and insight shared hugs of understanding and hugs of compassion extended. After the hugs, Sophie opens the door and we file out smiling and laughing and in better shape then when we entered. Everyone says good-bye thank you good-bye thank you.

The Primary Patients walk through the Halls to the Dining Hall. We do so as a group. The men talk to the men, the women talk to the women. It is all small talk, meaningless bullshit like where you from, how long you been here, what’s your drug of choice. The talk continues as we walk through the Glass Corridor and we form a line. It continues as we get trays and food.

The talk stops when it’s time to decide where to sit. Nearly everyone seeks out an empty table. The rest of the Patients have yet to arrive, so there are plenty from which to choose. I find a table where no one is anywhere near me and I sit down. I eat slowly. I stare at my plate, move my fork toward it, scoop, move the fork toward my mouth. I chew. I don’t pay attention to what I’m chewing, and after a few bites, it doesn’t matter. Everything tastes the same. Fork to plate, fork to mouth. Chew. Everything tastes the same.

My plate is empty. The rest of the Patients are arriving and the Dining Hall is starting to fill up. I stand with my tray and I put it on the conveyor and I walk out. I go back to the Unit and I go to my Room. I have some time to burn before I am meeting my Parents. I should be prepared. As calm as I can be in order to control the Fury, which I know will come. Lilly makes me calm, but Lilly is not here. Free air makes me calm. The little book the Tao makes me calm and it is sitting near my bed. I sit down on my bed and I open the book at random and I start to read.

Fifteen. Be as careful as crossing frozen water, alert as a Warrior on enemy ground. Be as courteous as a Guest, as fluid as a Stream. Be as shapeable as a block of wood, as receptive as a glass. Don’t seek and don’t expect. Be patient and wait until your mud settles and your water is clear. Be patient and wait. Your mud will settle. Your water will be clear.

Sixty-three. Act without doing, work without effort, think of the large as small and the many as few. Confront the difficult while it is easy, accomplish the great one step at a time. Don’t reach and you will find, if you run into trouble throw yourself toward it. Don’t cling to comfort and everything will be comfortable.

Seventy-nine. Failure is an opportunity. If you blame others, there is no end to blame. Fulfill your obligations, correct your mistakes. Do what you need to do and step away. Demand nothing and give all. Demand nothing and give all.

Twenty-four. Stand on your toes and you won’t stand firm. Rush ahead and you won’t go far. Try to shine and you’ll extinguish your light. Try to define yourself, you won’t know who you are. Don’t try to control others. Let go and let them be.

As I read this book it calms me without effort, fills in the blanks of my strategy for survival. Control by letting go of control, fix your problems by forgetting they’re problems. Deal with them and the World and yourself with patience and simplicity and compassion. Let things be, let yourself be, let everything be and accept it as it is. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing more.

I am prepared. I am calm. I will accept what comes. I walk out of the Room. My Parents are waiting for me on the other side of the Clinic.

I walk through the Halls. My eyes are forward but focused on nothing. Each step is a step and nothing more than a step, a method for taking me from this place to that place. As I turn corners I hear sounds. They sound as they are, they just sound as they sound. The Tao told me what I needed to hear and I listened. The Tao taught me what I needed to be taught and I learned. The sounds just sound.

I stop in front of the door to Joanne’s Office. I knock on it. Her voice says come in so I open the door and I go inside. My Mother and my Father are sitting on the couch. They have changed clothes again and they are holding hands. Their eyes are dry and their lips steady. They stand to greet me, but they don’t try to hug me. I say hello to them and I don’t try to hug them either. I sit down in the chair across from them and they sit back down. Joanne is behind her desk. She’s smoking a cigarette.

Your Parents told me about their new smoking policy and they extended it to me. I hope you don’t mind.

I pull out a cigarette.

Not at all.

I reach for an ashtray.

We were talking about our Session this morning. Your Parents have some thoughts and feelings on it, but we thought we’d start with yours.

I light my cigarette, take a drag. I exhale.

I hated this morning.

Joanne looks at me.

I think you need to be more specific and I think you need to tell your Parents, not me.

I look at my Parents. They are holding hands and they are looking at me.

I’m sorry about what I told you this morning. It must have been terrible for you to have to sit through it. As I was doing it, I felt a number of things. The first was anger. Intense anger. I don’t know why, but whenever I’m near you, I feel incredibly and uncontrollably angry. The second feeling I had was horror. Horror because as I get some distance from myself, I’m realizing what a truly horrible Person I am. I’ve hidden a lot from you, as much as I could, and I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you to have sit through the details of my monstrous existence.

I take another drag of my smoke. My Mother moves closer to my Father, my Father holds her a little tighter.

I felt shame, enormous amounts of shame. I felt shame because of who I am, what I’ve done, the way I’ve lived my life, the crimes I’ve committed. I felt shame because you’re good People and you deserve better than me. I felt shame because I hurt you, have hurt you over and over, and every time I did it, including this morning, I knew I was doing it.

I take another drag.

I felt regret for a lot of the same reasons I felt shame. But also because I have wasted so much of my life and so much of your life, and because on some level, it didn’t have to be this way. I don’t know what way it should have been or how I could have changed myself, but I know that my life should not have been the way that it has been. I know that it is entirely my fault.

Another drag.

I felt like I wanted to drink. I felt like I wanted to do drugs. I felt like I wanted large amounts of both of them. I feel that way most of the time though, so I don’t know if it was specific to our conversation. I felt humiliation, disgrace, embarrassment, remorse and sadness.

I finish and I take a final drag of my cigarette and I put it out in the ashtray. My Father is holding my Mother and my Mother is crying. Tears are running down her cheeks, but her breathing is fine and there is no sobbing. Joanne looks at my Parents.

Are you ready?

My Father speaks.

Yes.

Why don’t you tell James how you felt.

My Father takes a deep breath and he looks at me and he speaks. I wish he would look away.

We were upset. Obviously very upset. The first thing I really felt was surprise, and after surprise, I felt shock. I know I work a lot, and I always have, and I’m not around as much as I would like to be, but I had no idea you have been doing some of the things you have been doing and I had no idea as to the extent to which you have been doing them. I think of crack as some horrible Ghetto drug that homeless People and schizophrenics and gang members smoke. I had no idea you did it, and it scares me and it upsets me to think about it. The alcohol. I knew you had a drinking problem, that has been obvious for a very long time, but if you have been getting sick and blacking out for as long as you say you have, and I believe you, you are a very, very serious Alcoholic. I was shocked by the drug dealing. Shocked, horrified and disappointed. If you had been caught you would have gone to Prison for a long time, and you’re lucky you weren’t caught. You also could have been killed, and I sort of think it’s a miracle that you haven’t been. As far as whatever your situations with the Law are now, I don’t really know what to say. Obviously your Mother and I don’t want you to go to Prison, and we’ll do whatever we can to help you stay out of it. Aside from shock and surprise, I was disappointed and hurt and very sad. I was disappointed in you and in me and in your Mother. There is something very wrong between us if things have gotten to this point. I was hurt because it hurts to learn things like the things we learned. It hurt because I feel as if I have been lied to and duped for many years, and it hurt to know you thought you had to lie to us and hide things from us. I was mainly sad for you. Sad because you’ve been through some awful things, and no Parent, especially your Mother and me, would ever want that for their Child.

He looks down, takes a breath, looks back at me.

Part of me wanted to wring your neck this morning and part of me still does. Another part of me, the part I’m trying to let stay in control, wants to give you a hug and tell you everything’s going to be all right. Another part of me says I should just give up and let you do whatever it is you’re gonna do.

My Father stares at me, I look away. He turns to my Mother, who is staring at the floor. He pulls her in tight, reassuring her through his arms. I speak.

Dad.

He looks back at me.

I’m sorry.

I am too, James. I am too.

He looks back at my Mother. Her tears have stopped, though they have streaked her face.

Lynne.

My Mother nods.

Are you ready?

Mother nods again and she looks as if she’s going to break down.

Take your time.

She pulls away from him slightly and she straightens herself out. She wipes her face with a tissue and she takes a deep breath.

Aside from the days when my Parents and my Brother and my Sister died, this morning was the worst morning of my life. I hated it. I hated hearing about all that stuff. I hated thinking about you having done it. I hated thinking about all the lies and the deception. I hated thinking about the drugs. I hated the stuff with the Police. I hated the drinking. I hated thinking it had been going on for so long. I hated everything about this morning.

She is crying. She wipes her face with her tissue again and she takes a deep breath.

I don’t know why you do these things. I don’t know what drives you to do such terrible things. It makes me think that I’m a terrible Mother and a terrible Person and that I haven’t done anything right ever. It makes me hate myself.

Her breathing is becoming more labored. She wipes her face again.

I was shocked and hurt and scared. I feel like I don’t know who you are. I don’t know who you are and that’s awful. You’re my Son. You’re my Son.

She breathes, cries, wipes.

I’m angry at you for all of this. It’s such a mess. Crack and blacking out and selling drugs and fighting with the Police and Jail. It’s just such a mess. It’s my worst nightmare.

Cries become sobs. Tears a flood.

It makes me feel like a jerk for letting it happen and for defending you for all these years. Whenever anyone said anything bad about you, I defended you and told them they were wrong. I guess I was wrong.

She doesn’t bother wiping the tears anymore.

I had so many dreams for you.

She sobs.

You could have been anything you wanted. Anything.

Sobs.

And you’re this.

Sobs.

This.

My Father puts his arms around her. She buries her face in his chest. She wails and she heaves, she clutches the sleeves of his shirt. I sit and I watch and I wait. I don’t know what to do. I want to give my Parents a hug and tell them I’m sorry, but I can’t. I want to beg for their forgiveness, but it’s not going to happen. I want to take their hands and tell them everything is going to be okay, but that’s not a promise I know I can make. I sit and I watch and I wait. I don’t know what to do. I want to touch them, but I can’t.

My Mother continues to cry. She cannot will not is unable to stop. My Father holds her and he stares at the floor over her shoulder. Joanne stands and she walks to me and she leans to my ear.

I think you should go.

I stand.

You have a meeting with Daniel and your Parents tomorrow morning. It’s in the same Room we were in earlier.

I walk to the door. Before I leave, I turn and I look at my Mother and my Father. My Mother is crying, my Father staring at the floor. Joanne is down on one knee and she is whispering kind words to them, words that I do not deserve to hear.

I open the door and I walk out. I make my way back to the Unit. Night has fallen and the Halls are dark. Overhead lights illuminate them. I hate the lights I want them gone. I wish the Halls were darker. I am craving the dark the darkest darkness the deep and horrible hole. I wish the Halls were fucking black. My mind is black my heart is black I wish the Halls were black. If I could, I would destroy the lights above me with a fucking bat. I would smash them to fucking pieces. I wish the Halls were black.

I open the door to my Room. I walk and I sit down on my bed. Miles is not here and I am alone. My mind is black and my heart is black and I am alone.

I take off my shoes and I take off my socks. I pull my foot my right foot onto the thigh of my left leg. I look down at my toes. They are dirty and gnarled and foul with sweat. I am alone and the Fury is within me. It is not raging, nor near its height, but it is there. It flows through my veins like a slow, lazy virus, urging me to do damage, but not enough damage to constitute destruction. I want it to go away. I want it to leave me. When it is at its full, I am often at its mercy, but not now. I know what to do to make it go away, I know how to make it disappear. Feed it pain and it will leave me. Feed it pain and it will go away.

With the thumb and forefinger of my right hand, I start pulling at the nail of the second toe of my left foot. I know it’s sick, a sick fucking symptom of an infected mind, but I do it anyway. I pull. I pull at the nail.

It is always this toe, always this nail. As it has grown back from my last bout with it, it has grown in a way that makes it easy to do it again. It sticks up a little higher than the rest of my nails, its shape is more ragged. It has edges that I can get beneath, edges that provide leverage. I pull. I pull at the nail.

It starts to break away at its tip. It starts to hurt. The Fury inside of me howls with delight. Give me more. Give me more.

I pull and the nail breaks further. It tears the skin that holds it in place, severs the veins that feed it. Blood starts to flow. The pain starts moving. Like the blood, the pain is red. It moves down my toe and into my foot, it dances around my ankle. I can feel the Fury feeding on it. Give me more. Give me more.

I look down. My fingers and my foot are covered in blood. I can see the nail through the red, see it hanging by its base. I know the Fury sees it because I can feel it. It feels like a starving demon. Feed me. Feed me. Feed me that goddamn nail. Feed me, you Motherfucker, or I will ruin you. Feed me that goddamn nail.

I put my finger above the nail and my thumb between it and the exposed pink flesh of my toe. My thumb brushes the flesh and the pain turns from red to white and it shoots up my leg and into my stomach. It is instantly devoured and there is an instant call for more. Feed me, you Motherfucker, or I will ruin you. Feed me that goddamn nail.

I pull. I pull at the nail. One half of it rips from its base. I close my eyes my hand is covered in blood I clench my jaw and I cry out softly I cry. The pain is overwhelming and I am full of it. From the tips of my hair all the way down and through everything everywhere the pain is everywhere. The Fury is gobbling it up. The Demon is drinking. One more tear and it will be full.

I pull. I pull at the nail. It tears free and I cry out my cry is not so soft this time. Pain is everywhere, white and flaming and cold as Hell. Every cell in my body is twitching and electric, full of hate and thankful with relief. The Fury rises briefly rises with a smile and screams bloody murder thank you. It eats the pain. It drinks it. It takes it every way it can. It makes it go away go away now. I have given you what you wanted, go away now.

I let out a deep breath. A deep, deep breath like that after ecstasy, like that after your life has flashed before your eyes. I look at my foot. It is covered in blood, as is my hand. I stand and I walk to the Bathroom. As I step with my damaged foot, I place only the heel on the floor. Every time it hits, there is a throbbing bolt of electric red and white lightning. Every time it hits, the bolt is eaten.

I open the door. I step toward the sink, carefully avoiding the mirror. When I reach the sink, I turn on the cold water. I wait until it gets as cold as it can get.

When it arrives, the coldest the sink can provide, I lift my foot into the air and place it beneath the faucet. Drops of blood hit the floor as I lift and I lean over to wipe them with my clean hand.

The water meets the flesh and everything is pink. The pink runs down the drain and more pink follows it. The cold cauterizes the pain, and the Fury cleans it licks its lips of the last of it and fades away. I stand and I wait. I clean my hand. Everything is pink. Blood is flowing.

After a moment or two a few brief moments, the pressure from the water seals the wounds on my toe and closes the torn ends of the broken vessels. The toe throbs. It’s not so bad. I would rather have the throb than the alternative. I would rather feed it then let it run wild.

I turn off the water and I remove my foot from the sink and I walk back to my bed. I put on my sock and I put on my shoe. I leave the Room.

It is almost time for me to leave, almost ten o’clock. I walk into the Unit. Men are scattered about the Room. They are watching TV, playing cards, smoking cigarettes and telling stories, waiting for the phone. Leonard is in the Phone Booth and I can hear complaints about the time he is spending there. Complaints, but no action. Against most men there would be action.

I get a cup of coffee. A man dressed in black sweatpants and a black T-shirt is standing against a wall on the Lower Level of the Unit. He is in his mid-twenties and though he is thin, he looks strong. He is smoking a cigarette and he is staring at me. Something in him strikes me as familiar, though I don’t know from where, and something in him strikes me as menacing, though I do not know why. He is just standing there staring at me. I stand my ground and I stare back. There is no effort behind his stare, he believes whatever it is that is going through his mind. He’s familiar and menacing. I don’t know why.

He chuckles and he moves off the wall and he pulls his eyes away from me and he walks toward one of the couches in front of the TV and he sits down. I watch him the entire way. I stood my ground, I have a feeling I will need to stand again.

I walk back to my Room with my coffee. Miles is sitting on his bed polishing his clarinet. He looks up at me when I enter.

What’s up, Miles?

Not a thing, James. How are you?

I’m okay.

I sit on my bed, start putting on warmer clothes.

How did it go with your Parents this evening?

Fine, I guess.

How did they react?

Not as badly as I thought they would, but bad enough.

How did you feel about it?

About the same.

But more ashamed than anything else?

Probably.

Shame is a terrible thing. Necessary, but terrible.

You’re still fighting with it?

I suspect I am going to be for a long time.

Why?

I am not a good man, James.

You’re a Judge. You can’t be that bad.

I am a Judge, but in my heart, I know I don’t deserve to sit in judgment over anyone.

You’re just being hard on yourself.

He shakes his head.

I haven’t told anyone this, though the Staff knows, but I have been here before. This is my second term at this Clinic.

When was your first?

The first time was years ago. I came because, like now, I had a very bad drinking problem, a problem that nearly destroyed me. It almost destroyed my career, and in many ways, it destroyed my first marriage, which was to a wonderful woman with whom I had a son.

How old is he?

He’s twelve now. He’s a fine young man. I wish I got to see him more.

So you’re here again, that is nothing to be ashamed of.

He sets down his clarinet.

It is, James, for me it is.

Why?

It took me years to get over what happened last time. Years of long nights alone looking at myself in the mirror, years of hard work staying sober, and years trying to make up for my indiscretions. Now, after all that, I have done it again.

Why do you think that?

I have mentioned my Wife to you before. She is a great woman. She is smart, beautiful, challenging, independent, successful in her field. She is everything I have always sought in a partner. When I first met her, I knew right away I wanted to marry her. On our first date, I told her of my history. I wanted to be honest with her, and in being honest with her, I hoped to not repeat that history. After I told her, she smiled and said, Miles, you are a beautiful man, and I knew from the first second I saw you that we were going to be together, but if you pull that type of shit on me, I will kick your ass and leave you like yesterday’s garbage.

I chuckle, he smiles.

I liked that she said that too, and I liked it even more because I knew she meant it. I thought it would be good for me to know that if I went astray again, I would be punished for my sins. We were married, we lived as Husband and Wife for several years, we decided to have Children, and she got pregnant. I was feeling very confident, perhaps too confident, about who I was and how I could live my life.

He stops, looks at the floor, takes a deep breath.

Around this same time, I went to a conference for Federal Judges. It was in Florida, on the beach, at a very nice hotel. There was a golf course there, and on the first day of the conference, I played golf with some other Judges that I was friendly with, but did not know well. After we finished playing, we went to an outdoor restaurant for dinner. It was a gorgeous night, and I had played well, and I had just spoken with my Wife, and I was at the pinnacle of my career, and I felt good, very good about who I was and what I had done with my life. When it came time to order, all of the other Judges ordered cocktails. I decided I would as well. I ordered a whiskey and coke. I thought that I could handle it. As soon as I took my first sip, and I felt the alcohol hit me, I knew I was in trouble.

He shakes his head.

I left the table a few minutes later and went to my room and drank most of what was in the minibar. I slept in the next day and skipped the conference and when the minibar was refilled, I did it again. When I went home, I started hiding liqour in my house, in my office and in my car, and I drank as much as I could. Soon enough, I was drinking all day and drinking all night. I started keeping a bottle of bourbon under my Bench. I would put it in a glass and drink it during Court proceedings. I pretended it was water, and I consumed it like it was water. I tried to stop, and I couldn’t. I passed out one afternoon during a recess in proceedings, and when I came to, an Officer of the Court was waiting for me. He told me that my Wife had been trying to call me and had left several urgent messages. I immediately went to see her, and when she asked if I was all right, I told her that I was sick with the flu. She knew I was lying and she confronted me. She told me that she had warned me about falling off the wagon and that she had known that I had been drinking very heavily. She had hoped I would stop, but now realized that I wouldn’t. I tried to deny there was a problem, but she pulled out several bottles that she had found in various places where I had hidden them and told me it was time to stop lying. Then she told me to leave. I immediately came here.

He takes a deep breath.

My Wife arrives here next week for the Family Program. I am expecting the worst, and I feel like I deserve it. I have now done this more than once, and I feel it is deplorable, and I feel it is the worst type of crime a man can commit against his Family. I hate myself for it and I am ashamed of it, deeply, deeply ashamed. At certain points in my career I have sentenced men to death by execution. I feel in many ways that would be a reasonable sentence for me. I know that sounds melodramatic, but to me it sounds right.

He shakes his head.

I am ashamed to the point where I don’t know if I want to go on living. I don’t know you well, but I sense that you are struggling with some of these same issues. I can also see you changing, that you seem to be finding ways to handle them. When I ask you questions about what you’re doing, it is because I am seeking a way to give myself hope for some form of redemption. I am a believer in God, but God no longer seems to believe in me. If you know anything or have anything that you think might help me, I would be very thankful if you would be kind enough to share it with me.

I smile.

Why are you smiling?

Because I think it’s funny that a Federal Judge is asking me for advice.

We are all the same in here. Judge or Criminal, Bourbon Drinker or Crackhead.

I guess so.

Do you have anything you might be able to share with me, James?

I got two things.

What are they?

The first thing is Leonard.

West Coast Finance Director Leonard?

I laugh.

Yeah, West Coast Finance Director Leonard. You should go talk to him. Tell him I sent you and tell him you want to hear about holding on.

Holding on to what?

Just ask him.

I will do that. What is the second thing?

You ever see me reading that little book?

I point to the Tao. It is sitting on my nightstand.

Yes.

In about thirty seconds, I’m gonna climb out that window above your bed.

Miles laughs.

After I’m gone, pick up the book and give it a read. You might think it’s nonsense, and it very well may be nonsense, but it seems to do me good whenever I read it.

Why do you think it does that?

It just makes sense to me.

I’ll give it a try.

I stand, walk toward his bed.

You mind letting me through?

He moves out of the way.

I’m not going to ask you where you’re going or what you’re doing.

That’s probably best.

Be careful not to get caught.

I open the window and I step through it and I close it behind me. I feel the cold immediately. It is strong, bitter, tense and angry. It bites at my face and the exposed skin of my hands like a termite bites at wood.

I start walking. I walk quickly, avoiding all light and avoiding all windows. In the shadows I am safe and I am strong and I am comfortable. I know I won’t get caught in the shadows.

I find the Trail and I let it take me toward the Clearing. I step off where I always step off and I push my way through thick tangles of branches and through a tapestry of Evergreens.

As I approach the Clearing I start to rush. My eyes see but my mind registers moments of the future soon to be in Lilly’s arms. A branch strikes me. Across my cheek it tears the skin, not deep but deep enough.

I step into the clearing and she is there. She is sitting on frozen ground wrapped in a blanket her pale skin shining. She smiles and she stands and without words, she steps forward, opens the blanket, envelops me within it and within her and within myself. She kisses my cheek, the one not torn, she wraps me and she holds me. Her arms are thin but strong. She whispers in my ear.

I’m glad you’re here.

So am I.

I missed you.

I missed you too.

She releases me a little, enough to gain space. She steps to my side.

Let’s sit.

She stays at my side and she guides me down. We sit on frozen dirt and sharp leaves and brittle sticks. She reaches up and she delicately touches my cut cheek.

What happened?

I ran into a branch.

You couldn’t see?

I wasn’t paying attention.

You want me to make it better?

How you gonna do that?

I’ve got special powers.

Really?

You want to see?

Yeah.

She leans forward and she starts to kiss my cheek. I pull away.

What are you doing?

Healing you.

That’s a fresh wound.

I know.

That’s running blood.

I know.

You’re willing to take that risk?

She leans forward.

I am.

I don’t stop her. Her lips hit my cheek slightly open. Her tongue dances across the flesh of my face. I close my eyes. She pulls herself toward me her arms holding thin and strong. I move myself toward her my arms open and free. She kisses down my cheek to the edge of my mouth it responds. It says come and we meet. Our open mouths meet. Fast and slow alternating hard and soft pressing and receiving seeking and being sought. Loving and being loved.

We are beneath the blanket. We slide to the ground it is no longer cold. She is on me and I am on her side by side our hands wandering along the length of the other. Our hands meet. Embrace. Hold. Our hands. A current connected physically and otherwise.

She slips her hand away out of mine and it moves down my chest, my stomach, beneath my stomach, down. I like it there feel it there want it there but fear interlopes great fear I am scared. I push her hand away gently push it away. We are still together our lips meeting she moves her hand back I push it away. I am scared. Great overwhelming fear. Fear near panic fear. She pulls our lips apart she speaks.

What’s wrong?

I can’t go any further.

You’re shaking.

I know.

Why?

I’m scared.

Of what?

Everything.

What’s that mean?

I’m just scared.

Of me?

No.

She pulls me closer.

I’m not gonna hurt you.

I know.

I’m not gonna leave you.

I know.

Tell me why you’re scared.

I look at her face close to me. At her eyes clear blue. Even in the dark they are clear water blue.

I’ve never done this before.

What?

What I think we’re going to do.

What do you mean?

I’ve never done it before.

You’ve never had sex?

I have, but not like this.

What do you mean?

Never sober.

What about that Girlfriend?

Never.

Why?

I don’t know.

I’m not gonna hurt you.

I know.

Why?

I take a deep breath. I’m scared. I speak.

She was a virgin when I met her. She had been saving herself until she fell in love. After a couple of months she decided that she was ready. We talked about it and we set a date and we went out for a fancy Dinner. I was really nervous, so I drank through the whole date before to try and calm myself down. When we got back to her Room she had candles burning and flowers on her bed and classical music playing on her stereo and it was like something out of a silly movie. We started fooling around, and when it came time, I couldn’t get it up. I wanted to more than anything in my whole life, but I couldn’t do it because I was scared and I was drunk.

I take another breath, start to shake more, feel more scared. I hate the memories and I hate myself for creating them.

We tried again and again and again. We tried every night for a couple of weeks and I could never do it. Each time I failed I felt worse and worse and more and more humiliated and embarrassed. She was offering herself to me, and I couldn’t take her because I was impotent. Every time we tried I was fucking impotent.

We stayed together for a while, but we weren’t really together, we were just sort of each other’s habit. In her case it was a bad habit, in my case it was a good one. The last time we tried to have sex I decided to tell her that I loved her. I thought that if I did that it would make my fear go away and everything would work. We were naked and in bed and I was okay and I looked into her eyes. She had these eyes, very blue, not like yours, but lighter and more like ice, and I looked into them and I said I love you. She didn’t say anything back. She just stared at me with those eyes, and they were cold and empty and far away, and they looked as if what I had said had made them sick. I said it again and she pushed me off of her and she got out of bed and she went to the Bathroom. When she came back she smiled and she said I think you’re a very special person and she kissed me on the cheek and she turned over and went to sleep.

I take a deep breath.

I had thought for a long time that if I could be with her that she would be enough to make me straighten myself out. I had thought for a long time that somehow she could save me. When I was impotent with her, and I knew I had failed and it was over, I knew that I would never be anything but a drunk impotent embarrassing Asshole and that I might as well start seriously trying to kill myself with alcohol and drugs. So I did, and everywhere I went I saw her eyes, and when I think of her I still see them, her eyes at that moment when I told her I loved her, and I could see that I made her sick.

I stare into the blackness. It offers nothing. I am flooded with the feelings I felt with her they come back just as strong. Humiliation, embarrassment, shame, helplessness, impotence.

Lilly holds me, but leaves me to me. I stare into the blackness and I breathe. There is nothing that will change the past and nothing that will help me forget it. It was what it was and it was what it was because of me. I wish it were different, but there’s nothing I can do. It’s in the past. It is time to accept it and let it go.

Lilly pulls back. She looks at me and she speaks.

You stopped shaking.

For now.

When it happens, we’ll go slow.

That would be nice.

As slow as you want or you need.

Thank you.

And it’ll be nice for me too.

Why?

We sort of talked about this before.

A little.

Do you need more than a little?

I need what you want to give me.

I want to give you everything.

Then tell me what you need to tell me.

She pauses, smiles.

This is scary.

I know.

Really scary.

I’m not gonna hurt you.

She smiles again.

I know.

And I’m not gonna leave you.

I know.

And I’m not gonna judge you.

Thank you.

She smiles, looks away for a moment, looks back. Her smile disappears and the brightness of her eyes fades and she starts speaking. She tells me about her Mother. About her Mother’s addictions and her Mother’s pain. She tells me about her Mother’s work as a prostitute and how her Mother sold her. She was thirteen. A man who paid for her Mother saw her and he wanted her. Her Mother needed drugs. Her Mother sold her to the man for two hundred dollars. Sold her for an hour and sold her for a lifetime. Sold her virginity for a syringe full of dope. Two hundred dollars for a syringe full of dope.

She tells me about the men after that man. How her Mother sold her regularly and stopped working herself. She tells me about the pain and the misery and the horror. Man after man. Day after day. Violation after violation. There were always syringes full of dope. Paid for with her body. She tells me how she started using them. How she hated them and how they helped her. Man after man. Day after day. Violation after violation. The syringes helped.

She tells how she left. After four years of terror. A man beat her and used a loaded gun on her and in her and after he was done, she walked out. She didn’t have any money or any belongings, she didn’t have a car. She just walked out and kept walking, hitchhiking her way to Chicago, paying for it on her back with a few minutes satisfying Truckers. When she got to Chicago, she called information and she found her Grandmother. She had never met her when she went to her house. She knocked on the door and her Grandmother opened it and they both started crying. There were no words, just tears. She and her Grandmother crying.

She tells me how she went back to School. How the Boys loved her and the Girls hated her. How she felt as if she was so far behind. How hard it was to stay away and stay clean and be decent. How hard it was to forget. How it was impossible to forget. How she met a Boy and she liked him and she started going out with him. How she had hopes and dreams, how she played out fantasies in her mind. The Boy started smoking crack and using pills and she wanted to be with him and she went along with him. She started smoking crack and using pills. He started using her. His friends started using her. Her heart was broken it had never healed it just broke again. She was smoking crack and using pills. He and his friends used her.

Something happened. She starts to speak of it and she starts to cry. It was shortly before she came here. Shortly before her Grandmother made her drive herself toward freedom. She stops speaking and she starts to cry. Heavy violent tears. Heaving sobs. She shakes and I can feel her heart through layers and layers of clothing. Through layers and layers of pain. I hold her and she cries and there are no words anymore not from her or from me. There are no words that mean anything in the face of how she has lived her life. In what she has endured. I hold her and she cries. I am not going anywhere. I’m not going to hurt her. I’m not going to leave her. I’m not going to judge her. I hold her and she cries.


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