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A MILLION LITTLE PIECES: Chapter 19


I sleep through the night. Without interruption, without the aid of chemicals. It is the second night in a row I have slept without interruption and without drugs and alcohol. It is a new record.

When I wake it is morning early morning. Not dark, but not yet light. It is gray. Gray like fading sadness, gray like rising fear. Not dark, but not yet light.

I get out of bed. Miles is asleep I walk quietly to the Bathroom. I shower and I shave and I brush my teeth. I get dressed and I leave the Room.

I get a cup of coffee and I sit down at a table and I drink the coffee and I smoke cigarettes and I watch the men do their morning Jobs. One cleans the kitchen, one takes out the garbage, one vacuums the floor. I see a man carrying the supplies for the Group Toilets. They seem so long ago. The Group Toilets. Roy. So long ago.

I finish the coffee. I walk through the Halls to the Dining Hall. I get another cup of coffee and I look for a table. Matty is alone in the corner I sit with him.

He stares at his food. I can see his eyes they are bloodshot and swollen. A fork shakes in his hand. A glass shakes in the other. He stares at his food. I speak.

You okay, Matty?

He shakes his head.

What’s wrong?

He shakes his head.

Is there anything I can do?

He shakes his head.

Do you want me to leave?

He shakes his head.

I sit with him. I sit with him and I sip my coffee. He sits and he stares at his food. His hands shake and he doesn’t speak. He just stares at his food.

I finish my coffee and I stand and I ask him if he needs anything. He looks up at me and he speaks.

Don’t leave.

I sit back down.

Okay.

He looks at me. His eyes are bloodshot and swollen.

I need someone to sit with me.

I’m here.

He looks at me. His eyes are bloodshot and swollen.

It’s over, James.

What do you mean?

My fucking life. It’s fucking done.

What are you talking about?

He sets down his fork, releases his glass. His hands continue to shake.

I found out my Wife started smoking.

Started smoking what?

He starts to break down.

The fucking rock.

He stops himself.

Shit, Matty. I’m sorry.

He shakes his head.

She had never done it before. She was supposed to take care of our Kids until I got out of here. She got all fucking curious about what the shit was and why it did what it did to me and she went out and she fucking tried some.

How’d you find out?

My Grandma called me. Said she went by the house and found the Kids alone. They hadn’t been fed in a couple of days and our little one was sitting on the floor in a dirty fucking diaper. She waited there till my Wife came back and when she did, she was all fucked up and babbling and shit and she said she’d been out smoking.

I’m sorry, Matty.

Ain’t your fucking fault.

What are you gonna do?

I don’t fucking know. My fucking Wife has always been the one that held us together while I was out fucking up, and if she’s on the shit, things are gonna fall the fuck apart. You can’t have Kids or have a Family with two Parents that are Rockheads, and I probably won’t be able to stay clean if she’s fucking smoking.

What about getting her some help and going back to boxing?

Look at me, James, I can’t fucking fight no more. My body is wrecked, my head is all fucked up. I wouldn’t last thirty fucking seconds in a Ring with the worst fucking fighters in the World. And as much as I want her to get help, we spent the last chunk of my fighting money paying for me to come here and we ain’t got nothing else. We ain’t got fucking shit.

Can I do anything to help?

Not unless you got a big-ass chunk of money sitting around that you want to give me.

I don’t.

I’m fucked, James. It’s all over.

Something will work out.

I seen too much of the fucking rock to believe that bullshit. I’m gonna die, she’s gonna die, and our Kids gonna grow up to be just like us. We’re all fucked. Totally fucked.

He stands.

I gotta go for a fucking walk.

He picks up his tray.

Thanks for listening to me.

He walks away. I watch him. I pick up my coffee cup and I stand and I walk to the conveyor and I set my cup on it. I walk down the Glass Corridor separating men and women. I see Miles and Ted walking toward me. They are close together and their heads are turned down. Their lips are moving, but barely. Miles looks up at me and he gives me a slight nod acknowledging me and he continues speaking to Ted. They walk past me. I leave them alone.

I go back to my Room. I open the nightstand next to my bed. I take the stack of paper the twenty-two pages and I put them in the pocket of my pants. I leave my Room and I walk through the Halls. They are gray like the morning like fading sadness like rising fear. I am aware of them, but they don’t bother me. I know them too well. They don’t bother me.

I knock on Joanne’s door she says come in. I open the door and I step inside. She is sitting behind her desk, reading the paper, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette. She speaks.

How are you?

I’m good.

You ready?

Yeah, I’m ready.

Anything you want to talk about before we go?

No.

She sets down her paper, stubs out her cigarette.

After lunch today, I need you to come back here. Ken and I want to go over some things with you.

Is everything okay?

We have a Recovery Plan we’d like you to follow after you leave here.

Anything in it I’ll actually do?

Probably not, but it would be irresponsible not to present it to you.

Okay.

You want to go?

Yeah.

She stands. We walk out of her Office and through the Halls. The Halls are still gray, though a few shades darker, like deeper sadness, like greater fear. We do not talk as we walk, and with each step, the memory of that night grows stronger. I just wanted to be alone. I was crying. He came to me and I destroyed him. His spilling blood. I fucking destroyed him.

We stop at a door. A sign on the door reads Father David, Chaplain, Religious Services. Joanne knocks on the door a voice says come in. She tells me to wait for a moment and she opens the door and she walks inside and she closes the door behind her.

I stand and I wait. I start to shake my hands and legs and lips are shaking. My heart is shaking. If they were part of me, the Halls would be black. With sadness and fear. With the darkest darkness that lives within me. They would be jet fucking black. I am shaking.

The door opens. Joanne steps out and she stands in front of me. She speaks.

He’s ready for you.

All right.

I told him there might be some uncomfortable moments. He said it’s probably nothing he hasn’t heard before.

We’ll see.

Good luck.

Thank you.

She reaches out and she puts her arms around me and she hugs me. She speaks.

You’ll feel better when it’s over.

I nod. She lets go of me. I reach for the door my arm is heavy. I pull the door it weighs a thousand pounds. I open it and I don’t want to go in I don’t want to do this. Joanne is standing behind me and I turn and I look at her and she smiles and her smile allows me to step forward. Into the Office. I close the door behind me.

A Priest sits behind a desk. He is wearing black he is wearing a white collar. He is old, in his seventies, he has gray hair and dark brown eyes. A Crucifix hangs on the wall behind him, a worn leather Bible sits on top of a stack of papers. It is the first time since that night that I have been in the presence of a Priest. As I stare at him, the Fury rises. He stands and he looks at me and he speaks.

Hello, my Son. My name is Father David.

All due respect Sir, but I’m not your Son. My name is James.

Hello, James.

Hello.

Would you like to sit down?

He motions to a chair on the far side of his desk. It is across from him. I sit down.

Thank you.

He sits in his chair.

You’re here for your Fifth Step.

I don’t believe in the Steps. I’m here to make a Confession.

Are you a Catholic?

No.

I can’t take a Confession unless you are a Catholic.

Would you like me to leave?

Are you comfortable calling this a conversation?

Yes.

Why don’t we do that.

Thank you.

Do you have any questions before you start?

No.

Do you have any concerns?

No.

You should be reassured that whatever you have to say this morning will never leave this room. It is between you and me and God.

I don’t believe in God, sir.

Then it will be between you and me.

Thank you.

Would you like to begin?

Yes.

Take as much time as you need.

I take a deep breath. I pull the twenty-two pages of yellow paper out of my pocket and I set them in my lap. I look at them. They contain everything I can remember except for one thing.

I start reading. I read slowly and methodically. I read every word and I recount every incident. Each page seems as if it takes an hour. As I move through them, I feel better and I feel worse. Better because I am finally admitting my sins and I am finally taking some form of responsibility for them. Worse because as I speak of them, I relive them in my mind. Each and every one of them. I relive them in my mind.

When I am done reading I take another deep breath. I look at the pages and I fold them and I put them back in my pocket. The Priest speaks.

Are you finished?

I shake my head.

No.

It looks like you have read all that you have written.

There was one thing I didn’t write about.

Would you like to tell me about it?

Yes.

Take as much time as you need.

I look down. I look at my hands they are shaking. I feel my heart it is beating hard it is scared. I am scared. I take another deep breath I take another. Another. I am scared of speaking scared of the memory. I am scared.

I look up. Into the eyes of Father David. They are deep and dark and in them I do not see what I saw that night. In the eyes of this Priest there is only peace and serenity and the security of his belief. Not what I saw that night. I take another breath, one last breath. I exhale. I speak.

Eighteen months ago in Paris, I beat a man so badly that he may have died. The man was a Priest.

I take another breath.

Right after my arrest in Ohio, while I was sitting in Jail, I started thinking about my life. I was twenty-two years old. I had been an Alcoholic and drug Addict for a decade. I hated myself. I didn’t see a future and the only thing in my past was wreckage and disaster. I decided that I wanted to die.

When I got out, and jumped Bail, I flew back to Paris. When I got to my Apartment, I drank a bottle of whiskey and wrote a note. All it said was Don’t Mourn Me. I left it on top of my bed and I went out and I started walking toward the nearest Bridge. A lot of Parisians kill themselves that way, by throwing themselves into the Seine. You jump, hit the water, and you either die on impact or you drown.

As I was walking, I started crying. Crying because I had wasted my life and made such a mess of it, and crying because I was happy it was finally going to end. I also started getting scared. Scared because killing yourself isn’t an easy thing to do, and I knew that when I did it, everything was over. I don’t believe there’s a Heaven or anything resembling it. Life just ends.

I take a breath.

I saw a Church and I was getting so scared that I was having trouble walking. I figured I could go inside and it would be quiet and empty and I could sit by myself and think. I found an empty pew and I sat down and I just cried. For a long time. I just sat by there by myself and cried.

I take a deep breath. The Fury that faded while I have been speaking starts to rise again.

After a while, a man, dressed like you, approached me and asked me if I was all right. I told him no. He introduced himself as a Father. He told me that he had a lot of experience counseling young People and that if I wanted to talk to him about my troubles we should go back to his Office and talk. I said no, I’d like to be alone. He sat down next to me and said we should go back to his Office. He told me that he was sure he could help me, just come back to my Office, just come back to my Office. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I went.

I take another breath. The Fury has risen. I speak.

His Office was one of a series of Rooms behind the Altar. When we got there, the Father locked the door behind us. I should have known right fucking then, but he was a Priest, and it didn’t cross my mind. I sat down on a couch and he sat down next to me and he asked what was wrong and I told him. I told him about my addictions, about the shitty life I had led, about the disaster I had just run from and about my plan to kill myself. The whole time I talked, he sat and stared at me and pretended to be listening. When I finished he reached over and put his hand on my thigh and said you have come to the right place, I believe I can help you. I didn’t like his hand there, so I moved it. He put it back and he said although God has sent me to you, there is something you must give me in return. I moved his hand off again and I asked him what and he put his hand back and he put it higher on my thigh and he said I know you are upset and confused right now, but you must not resist or fight God’s will, we were put together for a reason, and he started moving his hand up my thigh toward my crotch. I moved it away and told him not to do that again. He said okay, but he put it back and this time he put it on my crotch and he started to reach for my face with his other hand. As he did he said you must not resist God’s will, my Son.

I stare at Father David. The Fury is up up up. I feel what I felt that night. The urge to kill, destroy, annihilate.

I didn’t give that Motherfucker a chance to touch my face. I hit him on the point of his chin and I heard a crack and the blood started to flow. I stood up and hit him again. I did it again and again and again. I don’t know how many times I did it, but at a certain point all I could see was blood. After I was through with his face, and after he was knocked out, I pulled him off the couch and I spread his legs. I spread them so I could kick him and I did. I kicked him about fifteen times as hard as I fucking could. I kicked him to the point that he was moaning, even though he was unconscious. Then I turned and I unlocked his door and I walked out and I went to the nearest Liquor Store and bought as much as whiskey as I could with the money I had with me and I found an alley and I sat there and I got fucking drunk till I passed out. When I woke up the next morning, I went Home. For the next few days, I kept expecting the Police to come see me or to arrest me, but it didn’t happen. I checked the Papers for a couple of weeks to see if there was some mention of what I had done, but there was nothing. I can only imagine that the Priest had done to others what he had tried to do to me, and that if he lived through what I did to him, and I think he did, he knew if he went to the Police I would tell them why I did it, and if they looked into my claims, there would have been others to substantiate them.

Father David looks away from me. He takes a deep breath and shakes his head. I keep speaking.

I don’t know if I lost the courage to kill myself or I gained the strength not to, but I didn’t do it. I kept living and drinking and doing drugs and fucking up. Eventually I ended up here. Unlike the rest of what I told you about, I don’t feel regret or remorse about what I did to that Priest, and to be honest, I think he deserved it. But it has haunted me. At that moment when I was kicking that Priest I could have killed him, and I wanted to kill him, and knowing that I was capable of doing that and willing to do it and out of control enough to do it, scared the shit out of me. I don’t want to be that way again, and I think talking to you about what I did and confessing it, if that’s even the right word, will help me to prevent something like that from happening again. Now that I have, and now that I have told you everything else, I’m finished.

Father David stares at his desk. I stare at him. I wait for him to speak, but he doesn’t. He just stares. I stand.

Thank you for listening to me.

I walk toward the door. As I reach for the knob, I hear him speak.

James.

I turn around.

I’m sorry.

You didn’t do anything.

I’m sorry anyway.

Thank you, and thank you again for listening to me.

I open the door and I step into the Hall and I close the door behind me. I take a deep breath and I let it out slowly. As it leaves me, so does everything I wrote, everything I said, everything I have done. It’s gone. All of it. It’s fucking gone.

I walk back to the Unit. My step is light and easy, I have a smile on my face. I go to my Room and there is a note on my door that says call your Brother at work. Beneath the writing there is a number.

I take the note and I walk to the Phone Booth and I step inside and I shut the door. I dial the number wait while it rings. A woman answers I ask for Bob Frey she says just a moment, please. My Brother picks up and he says hello. I say what’s up, Motherfucker, and he laughs and he says congratulations, you’re getting out. I say thank you and I ask him if he can pick me up and he says yes, he’s taking a few days off and he’s hoping that I’ll stay with him. I tell him that sounds good. He tells me my friend Kevin wants to come up from Chicago to see me and he asks if that would be okay. I tell him it would be great and he says he’ll call him. He asks me what time he should come and I say ten-thirty or eleven or whenever he can get here. He says he’ll see me at ten-thirty. We hang up.

The men are leaving for lunch and I follow them. As I walk toward my Room I see Miles stepping out of it. He turns to me and smiles.

Hello, James.

He shuts the door, starts walking with me.

Hello, Miles. How you been?

Busy.

With what?

My Wife is coming tomorrow. Doing all of the things we’re expected to do here. And I’ve been trying to help Ted.

What’s up with Ted?

Ted is looking at Life-No-Parole in Louisiana. I have been trying to help him avoid it.

Any luck?

No, I’m afraid I can’t help him. The Girl’s Father wants him put away.

Fuck. Does he know?

Yes.

What’s he say?

He wants to stay here for as long as he can, and then he thinks he can hide with Relatives in Mississippi.

What do you think about that?

I think it is very sad.

We enter the Corridor between the men and women. Miles nudges me and he motions toward the Women’s Section. I look over and I see Lilly. Her back is to me and she is sitting at a table with three other women. Her hair is in a ponytail and she is wearing a T-shirt. Her arms look too thin, as if she has lost a lot of weight.

I smile. I see one of the women say my name and I wait for Lilly to turn around I hope she will turn around, but she doesn’t. One of the women sitting at her table is the Supervisor of her Unit.

As I get in line, I stare at her. As I get my food, which is a turkey pot pie, I stare at her. As I walk through the Dining Room toward the table in the corner, I stare at her. I want her to turn around, I want to see her face. She doesn’t.

I sit down. Miles sits with me. We are joined by Ted and Matty and Michael. Neither Ted nor Matty speak a word. They just stare at their plates and eat. Miles and Michael talk about their children. I stare at Lilly’s long black hair and her arms that look too thin.

When she stands to take her tray to the conveyor, I stand as well. I walk slowly and I try to time my arrival so that it coincides with her arrival. I know if I speak to her or try to get her to acknowledge me I will get her in trouble, so I’m not going to try. I just want to be near her. Near enough to feel her presence. Near enough to see the details of her face. Near enough to smell the scent of her hair. I just want to be near her.

She arrives at the conveyor and she places her tray on it. The other women are behind her, and I am behind them. When she turns around, she sees me and she smiles. It is a wide smile, a beautiful smile. I have missed that smile, I have missed it. I smile back, though what I want to do is put my arms around her and hold her and kiss her and tell her I love her. That’s all I want to do. Put my arms around her and hold her and kiss her and tell her I love her.

The other women place their trays on the conveyor and they turn around and they walk away and Lilly walks away with them. I place my tray on the conveyor and I follow them down the Glass Corridor and into the Halls. At the entrance to the Lecture Hall, they turn and they go inside. I walk past to Joanne’s Office.

The door is open when I arrive. I walk inside and Ken and Joanne are sitting on the couch. They are each looking at files that are sitting on their laps. I sit in the chair opposite them and I wait for them to finish. Joanne looks up.

We were just going over your Posttreatment Plan.

How’s it look?

Ken speaks.

If you follow it, it will serve you very well.

Joanne closes her file, sits up. Ken closes his file and he hands it to me.

I take it and I open it and I look at it. It is filled with AA literature and schedules of AA Meetings in Chicago. I close it.

Looks good.

Joanne speaks.

You should take a little more time to look at it.

Why?

There’s more in there than you think there is.

All I saw were things related to AA.

Ken speaks.

That’s because we’re recommending that you attend AA.

I look at Joanne.

I thought we were through with this bullshit.

Ken wanted to go over it again and I agreed that we should.

Why?

Ken speaks.

Because you won’t stay sober without AA.

Why do you think that?

Because it is the only thing that works.

It might be the only thing that works for you, but it won’t work for me.

Why?

I don’t believe in the Twelve Steps. I don’t believe in God or any form of Higher Power. I refuse to turn my life and my will over to anything or anyone, much less something I don’t believe in.

Then what are you going to do?

I’m going to live my life. I am going to take things as they come and I will deal with what is in front of me when it is in front of me. When alcohol or drugs or both are in front of me, I will make a decision not to use them. I’m not going to live in fear of alcohol or drugs, and I’m not going to spend my time sitting and talking with people who live in fear of them. I am not going to be dependent on anything but myself.

Ken shakes his head.

That’s a recipe for disaster.

I laugh at him.

I guess we’ll see.

Joanne speaks.

I’ve said this before, James, and though I’ve been impressed by the way you’ve come to terms with your addictions and your life, I feel it is my responsibility to say it again.

What?

The odds of someone with your substance abuse history staying sober without tremendous amounts of support, both in AA and therapy, be it individual therapy or Group therapy, are a million to one. A million to one at best.

Those odds don’t scare me.

Ken speaks.

A million to one, James.

It’s a million to one that I’m here right now. A million to one doesn’t scare me.

Joanne speaks.

I think it would make Ken and me feel better if you’d at least go over what’s in the file with us.

Okay.

I open my copy of the file, they open their copies, and we start going over it. It has a small book on recovery in Jail, which is about AA programs in Correctional Facilities and working the Steps while incarcerated. It has a schedule of AA Meetings in Chicago and list of phone numbers of the Groups. It has a small packet of literature on Rational Reaction Therapy and how to apply it in the outside World. It has a packet of information on a Facility in Chicago related to this Clinic and the Programs they offer for people who have been through Treatment. It has a copy of the Twelve Steps themselves. It has a copy of the Serenity Prayer.

As we go over all of it, Ken and Joanne dutifully explain everything and I dutifully listen to them. I figure I owe them the respect of listening to them. When we are finished, I am relieved. If all goes as I hope and I plan and I expect it to go, I will never have to listen to anything having to do with my own involvement with Alcoholics Anonymous and the Twelve Steps ever again.

I close my file. I ask Joanne if she minds if I smoke and she laughs and says she was about to ask me the same thing. We both light up. Ken stands and says he’s going to go and I stand and I thank him for all of his time and all of his effort and I shake his hand and he wishes me luck and he tells me to call him if I ever have questions or concerns and I thank him again and he leaves. I sit back down and Joanne speaks.

You feeling good?

Yeah.

Excited?

Yeah.

You get hold of your Brother?

He’s coming to pick me up in the morning. I think a friend of mine will be with him.

What are you gonna do?

Get a fucking cheeseburger.

She laughs.

If you had told me you wanted one I would have brought one for you.

You’ve done enough for me.

Will you come say good-bye in the morning?

Absolutely.

Good.

I put out my smoke and I stand and I thank Joanne and she says don’t worry about it and I leave her Office. I walk back through the Halls and I go to my Room and I start gathering my things, though there is little to gather. A couple of pairs of pants. A couple of T-shirts. A sweater and a pair of slippers and a pair of shoes. Three books and a lighter. It isn’t much, but it is mine, and it is all that I need. As I finish packing it into a small plastic bag, Miles walks into the Room. He is carrying a brown manila envelope.

There was something in the mail for you.

He hands me the envelope. I sit down on my bed.

Thank you.

As Miles unpacks and assembles his clarinet, I stare at the envelope. It is plain and brown. There is no return address and the postmark is from San Francisco. It is addressed to me here at the Clinic. The handwriting is simple and legible, the letters wide and loose and loopy. It looks like the handwriting of a woman. I think about women I know who live in San Francisco. There is only one and she wouldn’t speak to me, much less write me a letter.

I open the envelope. I open it carefully along the ridge where it had been sealed before mailing. It tears slowly, and when I have it open, I reach inside. I feel a small stack of photographs. They are held together by a rubber band. I take them out of the envelope.

The first photo in the stack is a black-and-white photo of her. Her with blonde hair like thick ropes of silk. Her with blue eyes like the ice of the Arctic. She is standing in her Room, the Room where we first met, and she is smiling and she is holding a stuffed animal. I know this photo, and I used to have a copy of it. I used to carry the copy around with me in my wallet. I carried it before we were together, I carried it when we were together, I carried it after we were apart. She is the holding the animal, some kind of stuffed lion, in front of her chest. Her hair is down, she is not wearing makeup, and her smile is open and wide, as if the camera’s shutter snapped just before she started laughing. She is beautiful in the picture. Absolutely beautiful.

I start looking through the rest of the pictures. There is one of us walking down a street together. We are holding hands and smiling. There is one of us lying together on a couch. I am asleep and she is kissing my cheek. There is one of us dressed in fancy clothes, her in a dress, me in a borrowed suit. We’re toasting with glasses of champagne. There is one of us sitting in the Sun under a fading Fall tree. She is holding a book, I am smoking a cigarette. There is one of us kissing. Our eyes are closed, our arms are wrapped around each other, our lips have barely softly met. Her and me. We’re kissing.

I put the photos back in a stack. I place the rubber band around them. I put them back into the envelope and I close the envelope. I stand and I walk out of the Room.

I go into the Unit down the stairs out the Door. I start walking along the Trail that leads to the Woods. It is cold and night is falling and I am not wearing a jacket. My teeth start chattering and my body starts shaking.

I enter the Woods. I walk along the Trail until it leads me to the point where I break off toward the Clearing. I push my way through the dense branches the dense Evergreen the dense undergrowth. I push my way into the clear.

I sit on the ground. The dirt is cold, the dead leaves frozen and stiff. I take the stack of twenty-two yellow pages I have been carrying around with me out of my pocket. I read them. I read them slowly. I read every word, relive every memory. I set them on the ground. I take the photos from the envelope and I take the rubber band from around them and I look at them. I look at them slowly. I look at every photo, I relive every memory. I set them, with the envelope, on top of the stack of yellow paper.

I take my lighter from my pocket. I draw my thumb along its flint. The lighter ignites and a small blue flame emerges from its tip. I put the flame beneath the yellow paper. I hold it there until the paper accepts it. The paper catches on its edge and the flame starts spreading. I put the lighter back in my pocket.

I sit and I stare at the pile as it burns. I sit and I stare as the yellow turns red with fire turns black with ash turns from ash to smoke and disappears. I watch the photographs catch and bend and crinkle and disintegrate. I watch her captured image disintegrate. I watch the times we had together burn away. I watch my memories of her burn away. I am through with them. Fucking through. It is time to say good-bye.

When everything has been burned, I stand and I put my foot on the pile of smoldering ash and I rub it into the dirt. I rub it until nothing remains of it and there is no sign of the fire. I rub it until it mixes with the Earth and it is black and it is gone.

Night has come and with it the darkness and the cold. I push my way back through dense branches dense Evergreen dense undergrowth. I meet the Trail and I follow it through the Woods. I cross frozen grass and I walk toward the lights of the Clinic. I arrive at the door and I go inside.

The Unit is empty. I glance at a clock on the wall. It is time for dinner. I leave the Unit and I walk through the Halls toward Dining Hall. I am not hungry, and if I can, I will not eat another meal here, but I want to see Lilly.

I walk through the Corridor. I look directly into the Women’s Section. I scan the tables for her, but she isn’t there. I look closer. She isn’t there. I look at the table where her Unit Supervisor is sitting, but she isn’t there.

As I turn toward the stack of trays, I see her walking toward me. She smiles and she brushes her hair away from her eyes. There are black circles beneath them, but the deep water blue is shining. I stop where I am and I wait for her, and as she passes, without saying a word, she gently brushes her hand across the skin of my forearm.

I turn and I watch her walk away. She does not look back at me. When she is gone, I glance toward her Supervisor, who sees my glance and frowns at me and shakes her head as if to say I saw what just happened don’t do it again. I smile and I walk away.

I get a cup of coffee and I look for my friends. They are walking toward me and they are carrying their trays. Matty and Ted both look miserable. They grunt hello as they pass by me. Miles and Michael are just behind them, I turn and I walk with them to the conveyor. Miles speaks.

You’re a little late.

I was busy.

Michael speaks.

Probably best.

Why?

It was a very depressing dinner.

What happened?

Miles speaks.

Ted found out he has to leave here in three days and Matty’s Wife is missing.

Fuck.

Michael speaks.

It was very depressing.

Fuck.

They put their trays away. We walk through the Halls. They go to the Lecture and I go back to my Room. I sit down on my bed and I get my copy of the Tao and I climb under the covers and I start reading.

Seventy-nine. Failure is an opportunity. If you blame someone else you will never stop blaming. Fulfill your own obligations, correct your own mistakes. Do what you need to do and demand nothing of others.

Sixty-four. What is rooted will grow. What is recent can be fixed. What is brittle will break. Prevent trouble before it finds you, put things in order before they exist. The giant tree grows from a single seed. The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. If you rush, you’ll fail. Hold on to things too tight and you’ll lose them. Take action by letting action come to you. Remain as calm at the start as at the finish. If you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. Desire to not desire, learn to unlearn. Care for nothing and you will care for everything.

The words as true now as the first time I read them. They don’t tell me what to do or how to live or what not to do or how not to live, they simply tell me to be what I am and who I am and let life exist and exist within life. The words are true.

Twenty-two. If you want to be whole, you must first be partial. If you want to be straight, you must first be crooked. If you want to be full, first become empty. If you want to be reborn, you must first die. If you want everything, give everything up. If you don’t display yourself, people will see your light. If you have nothing to prove, people will trust you. If you don’t try to be something, people will see themselves in you. If you don’t have a goal, you will always succeed.

Forty-one. When a superior man hears of the Tao, he begins to embody it. When an average man hears of the Tao, he believes in parts of it and he doubts in parts of it. When a fool hears of the Tao, he laughs at it. If he didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao. It is said that the path into light is dark. That the path forward is backward. That true power seems weak, that true purity seems tarnished, that true resolve seems changeable, that true clarity obscure. The greatest art is unsophisticated, the greatest love indifferent, the greatest wisdom childish.

Miles walks into the Room. I close the book. He walks to his bed and he picks up his clarinet and he asks me if I mind if he plays it. I say please, I’d like it if you played. He picks it up licks his lips puts the reed to his mouth and he blows. I close my eyes. I hear long and slow. I hear short and fast. I hear a song that doesn’t come from notes on a page but from a beating human heart. I hear sorrow and shame and hope and redemption. I hear a past that doesn’t matter and the future that never comes. I hear harmony and simplicity and patience, I hear discipline and compassion. I hear it all now. In this moment in this Clinic in this Room in this bed with my eyes closed.

I hear it.

Right now.


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