A man in the midst of addiction finds momentary serenity in the storm.
I’m remembering what Michael told me earlier that day. He’s my new therapist. Crack cocaine and bad juju is no way to live, he said. It’s just a party, I said. If you do it every weekend and the weekend starts on Thursday and ends on Tuesday, it’s no party; it’s a way of life, he said. Face it, man, he said, you’re an addict.
I’m no fuckin’ addict, I said. I don’t get high by myself.
I’m lying through my teeth. The truth is I have been getting high whenever I can and then getting people to come over. People? Who the fuck am I kidding? Hookers with more dope is who, but really, I’m no addict, I’m just a guy with things to talk about when he gets high.
If I’m a addict then you better be very good, I had said to Michael that morning. I’m no walk in the park. He looked at me, waited. Is that your way of saying thank you, Charlie?
Something, maybe a decision of some kind took place inside a shrug. After another moment he rolled up his sleeve and showed me the track marks.
I left his office, relieved in a spooked kind of way. It might have been because it was finally in the open for me. Or maybe it was because he hadn’t pulled any punches, had left me no room to hide, and even so, had offered his help. Maybe deep down I thought that if he had made it, maybe one day I would too. Walking home across the sunlit park that the local junkies call No Man’s Land, I felt better than I had for a long while.
Later that night I went out to get more dope so I could wait for Diego’s “big shipment, great shit” to arrive even later that night. I took my mountain bike, bought in easier times, because my car was in the city pound, the victim of a speeding ticket, a bad attitude and a house downpayment’s worth of unpaid parking tickets. I put on my black silk jacket, check out my cool in the hallway mirror and go to the park.
The rain came in hard that night but even so the park was crowded. No Man’s Land was open for business. Frenchy, another dealer I know, saw me coming. Hey, man, you look like you been rode hard. The usual? Yeah.
I grab a hard hit after I score, let it take over and begin the inside drift to somewhere else, hit another one for the road, mount up and head back. On the way past Michael’s office I’m thinking, I ain’t no fuckin’ addict. I ain’t goin’ to no meetings.
Diego, my main guy, finally showed about 1:30 talking crap about flake and bricks of blue crystal. He pulled out a mess of mother of pearl, took my money and left, sayin’ he would see me after awhile but to be careful this was the best shit I had ever seen. It turns out that he was right about one thing; it was good shit, good enough to damn near kill me that night but not quite good enough to keep me from going down the road on a crack cocaine run that would last four years.
I bumped into Michael at the park during that time. He was doing something he called Iron Shirt, some kind of martial art that involved taking heavy hits to the chest as if he were a catching a baby and laying it down to sleep. I was still in the wind, still looking to get high. Our eyes met briefly, and held. He smiled sadly, shook his head once, or so it seemed and then he went back to his exercise of taking violence and accepting it so thoroughly that it became not only his own but was transformed into the most gentle and disarming of movements, a setting aside, serenity in the storm.
I went over to the dopers on the other side of the park, scored another rock, smoked it, scored a bunch more. On my way home I saw Michael one last time; he was still working out, he seemed to be not of this world.
The next day I put in a call to a friend of mine and we hit the road, south to Texas. When the dope ran out and the money was gone, somewhere south of Amarillo, I remembered Michael’s slow turning movement, his transformation in the motion of it to something different, gentler, stronger by far, a presence in the moment, an awareness long sought but never found, entirely unknown to me. Whatever it might have meant in the memory, and to this day I cannot tell you what it was, I made another phone call this time to the people I had long ago abandoned, accepted what was demanded of me and checked myself into a treatment center on the edge of a broke-down north Texas town, a brown grass place where the sun burnt the day like the fires of medieval hell and the night air brought scant moments of relief.
During the rare summer nights when breeze was up, I sat on the hillside, clean for the first time since I was a teenager, adrift with the endless Texas sky. The night wind carried hints of distant pine forests to the east. I found myself dreaming of the possibility of one more rodeo, of doing whatever it would take to build a second chance, of holding tight to the possibility that my war was over, and despite having lost every battle, something important had been won, that I would be allowed to make peace, to start out again as if for the first time, that I could leave No Man’s Land forever in the rear view and make a new life. Some days it works that way. For the other days when it is rough, I just have remember to keep it tight.
“As free as the coulds in the night” John K. @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.