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The Road To Fort Worth
Chapter 8: Danville
The blizzard left another foot of snow behind in its wake. Jack stood in the bitter cold on the westbound ramp of the Ohio Turnpike with his thumb in the air, a smile on his face, the clothes on his back, and a buck and a half jingling in one pocket, a pill bottle with one Librium in the other. He'd left a beautiful woman who loved him, the warmth of home, and the chance to save his tortured soul in the pursuit of an oasis where the liquor flowed freely--an alcoholic Don Quixote. Only two cars passed him in an hour, and his hands and feet were numb. He trudged through the frozen snow to the Holiday Inn to call Burt to ask if he could stay for the night. Burt said "no," that he was working the night shift. More traffic was traveling eastward, so he walked to the opposite side of the road and caught a ride with a trucker.
"Where are you going?" the driver asked.
"California," he said.
"You're going in the wrong direction," the driver said.
"Yeah, I know. I couldn't get a ride going west. I guess I'll go to the east coast, head south and take the southern route."
When the truck slowed to a crawl in the drifting snow in Pennsylvania, he thought of the sermon about the school bus in Montana and the boy who said as long as you're moving, you ain't stuck, then he remembered Laura's friend Susan who quit college to go to work to save enough money to finish school.
He got out of the rig in Danville, found his way to Mill Street, stopped at a watering hole, ordered a draught beer with his last buck and phoned Susan.
"What a surprise," she said. "Walk out of the tavern, and I'll be waving from the window over the furniture store down the street."
Once inside, he saw a table set up for Christmas with a dozen liquor bottles sitting on top of a red tablecloth emblazoned with Santa peering into the living room, a drink in one hand, his other hand pointing to the salutation, "Happy Holidays." The alcoholic Don Quixote had found his oasis.
"Want a drink?" Susan asked, pointing to the table, laughing. "Sorry about the mess. We never got around to cleaning up after Christmas." No need to clean up, he thought. Keep the booze coming, and I'll do the cleaning.
"Yeah, thank you, a Dewar's on ice," he said, looking around the dingy storefront apartment. If he hadn't remembered that Susan drank like a fish, then he'd still be on the road in search of another haven, a place to drink to his heart's content.
Every cell in his body screamed for alcohol as she washed and dried two glasses, fumbled with the ice tray, placed the ice cubes carefully in the glasses, slowly poured Dewar's over the ice, put the drinks on a tray, looked for cocktail napkins in the cupboard, placed the napkins next to the drinks and carried the tray into the living room. Thank God, he hadn't asked for a martini. How fucking long would it have taken her to pull a jar of olives from the fridge, find a cocktail pick, stab the olives and place them gently in a glass?
"Here's to you, Jack," she said, raising her glass.
"Right back at you," he said, clinking his glass against hers.
He finished his drink while she was in the bathroom. He walked to the table, poured another drink, drank half of it, started back into the living room, and turned around, grabbed a bottle from the table and took a good, long swig of whiskey.
He watched her walk back into the room--heavy set, large breasts, long curly black hair outlining her angelic face--an earth mother.
"Where are you working, Susan," he asked, looking at her intently.
"At the state hospital, afternoon shift. Lucky for you, we have the night off, huh?" she said, teasing. The state hospital, another option for him, he thought.
"Must be a tough job?" he said, and she smiled.
As Susan finished her third drink, Ellen was at the door tussling with three bags of groceries, trying to pull her keys from the lock.
"Hey, I got everything, I think. The roads are terrible. I almost slid into a fancy sports car leaving the store," Ellen said.
She stashed the groceries on the counter, put away the frozen foods, dropped a few ice cubes in a glass, walked gracefully to the table and poured a drink. She was a beautiful young woman, trim, toned, short brown hair, a few freckles spattered about her face, a hint of Irish.
"How are you getting on with Helen Garvey?" she asked Susan.
"That bitch really needs to be sedated. She told me to get out of her way yesterday, like she owned the place. Who is she anyway? I wish I could stab her in the ass with a hypo filled with Thorazine."
Ellen laughed. "You know the only reason that I asked was to see how worked up you'd get. I saw her husband in the market, and he looked like he was talking to a bag of coffee. They're both nuts and belong on the ward," she said.
Jack was in his element, fueled by scotch, talking with two beautiful women on a subject that he'd thoroughly researched. "Everybody's a little nuts," he said.
When Jack said something about leaving, they said, "No," in unison. Ellen told him, "You can stay with us for a while to get your bearings. There are jobs in Danville if you decide to stay. You could work with us at the hospital."
"Work at the hospital? Hell, I could be a patient," Jack said.
"Couldn't we all. The difference between the patients and the aides is that we have the keys," Ellen said.
He awoke at noon in Susan's bed, pulled back the covers and saw that he was naked. The last thing that he remembered was something that Ellen said about keys, and he looked around the room, found his clothes in a heap on the floor and a note on her pillow:
He stumbled to the table, poured a stiff drink, slugged it down, and went back to bed.
As the car climbed the winding road in the hills of Providence, he thought of the time that he and Lisa had driven through the area looking at the historic houses, the weekend of the Woodstock Festival when she begged him to stop in Bethel. Lisa was gone, and the job was over. At least he would have had the memory of Woodstock. A rush of anxiety flushed through his body. He needed a drink.
He hugged Joanne at the door, looked over her into the kitchen and saw a bottle of Jack Daniels and a bottle of Johnny Walker Red waiting for him. He didn't see any food anywhere. It didn't matter. He wouldn't eat. Joanne and Susan talked in the living room, and Jack stayed in the kitchen, guarding the liquor, drinking with Ellen. An hour later, she grabbed her coat and headed to the door. He stopped her and asked where she was going.
"I don't know, anywhere but here. This is all too much. I've had enough. Fuck this shit."
She had a glazed look in her eyes and looked at him like she didn't know who he was, and then she embraced and kissed him.
"Let her go, Jack," Susan said from the living room. "She just can't handle her booze." Ellen left and was back in few minutes. He looked at her. The glassy look in her eyes had disappeared into the cold night air.
In the morning, Jack awakened to the sound of muffled voices coming from the kitchen, pulled the blanket over his head and heard Joanne say distinctly, "I'll be damned if I'll let my best friend get involved with some loser alcoholic." Jack sat upright on the sofa, and Susan came into the room, crying.
"She got a letter from Laura in the mail this morning. I wouldn't read it. I never liked the bitch anyway."
"I'd better leave," Jack said halfheartedly. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen."
"I don't want you to leave, but maybe it's for the best. I don't know. I just want Joanne to shut the fuck up." Ellen walked in and said that she'd drive him wherever he needed to go.
He felt like saying that he needed to go to California, where he was headed before he got turned around by the blizzard. All he'd done was to stop in Danville for a drink, and now he was in Providence, stranded in the last place on earth that he wanted to be, tossed out on his ear by someone he never liked from the start.
He walked through the kitchen on his way out, noticed that the liquor had been stored away and saw the letter on the counter from Laura. The fucking bitch, he thought. I'm in Providence, and she sniffed me out like a bloodhound and fucked me again with another poison pen letter.
Ellen pulled under the canopy at the hospital to let him out and told him that she'd wait for him in the parking lot. "No need to wait. They'll know what to do with me." He told the attendant at the desk that he was having an anxiety attack and needed to be sedated. The doctor took a look at his tattered overcoat, his unkempt appearance, smelled the strong odor of liquor on his breath and told him that he wasn't getting any medication. "And I'm homeless," he added. They gave him a paper at the desk with directions to the Salvation Army. Ellen was waiting, drove him to the facility, and gave him a roll of half dollars for cigarettes.
"I'm so sorry this happened to you, Jack. Joanne is so damn emotional that she's frightened by her own shadow."
After drinking half a bottle of Listerine in the bathroom at the Sally, Jack showered and talked to his bunkmate about the work program there. "Can you drink?" he asked. "Hell, yes, do you think that there's anyone here that doesn't?" He knew that working would free him from the whims and hysteria of the women in his life, women who didn't understand his anxiety or his drinking. He thought about Ellen. She seemed to understand. He lay down, relaxed by the mouthwash, and fell asleep. Someone awakened him to tell him that he had a phone call. It was Ellen. "I think we were a bit harsh with you, dropping you off in a strange place. I'll pick you up, and you can ride back to Danville with us, stay for a while, until you get settled."
Jack rented a room over the Mill Street Tavern with welfare money. This time, he didn't stare off into the distance like he was crazy. He filled out the application, politely answered the intake worker's questions, and was issued a check. He stopped at the bar, drank two shots of Vodka because he thought that it was odorless, and walked to the mental health clinic to make an appointment.
"We've had cancellations," the receptionist said. "Please wait and someone will see you in a moment."
Pete Raush greeted him and ushered him into his office. "How can I help you?" he asked.
He'd been through the process of chasing after Valium so many times that he wished someone would invent a number system, the Dewey Decimal System for drug seeking behavior. Give me a number three, please.
He said, "I've been having bad anxiety attacks and thought you could prescribe something, like Valium, for relief."
Pete told him, "The doctor will make the determination on medication, but you won't get any Valium here."
"But I need the Valium. The episodes are so severe that it feels like I'm going crazy, and no one seems to know what I can do to get rid of them."
Pete said, "It sounds to me like you have an addiction problem."
Jack answered, "I don't have a damn addiction problem with anything. I don't think that you heard me when I said that I had to have Valium to rid myself of the anxiety."
Pete smiled and showed him into the drug and alcohol counselor's office. "Do you have a minute, Ray? This is Jack. He needs some advice."
Jack told him about his anxiety attacks, and Ray B. said that no one would be able to determine how to help him until he was clean and sober.
"Let me think about it, Ray. Can I do that?"
"Yes, you know that drugs and alcohol are waiting outside for you, but remember that the center is waiting, too." Then he took him to see the psychiatrist, and they talked for several minutes.
Jack told him:
And the doctor replied:
He returned to his room over the bar, drank for three days and bought a gallon of cheap wine with the last of his money. He saved half of the bottle for his last desperate move the next day. He drank the remainder of the wine in one sitting and walked to the Danville Police Station.
"I'm nuts," he told the officer. "I'm hearing voices, and I'm trying not to listen, but I'm scared to death of what I could do."
"Continue," the officer said, smiling.
"I need some fucking help. I need to be locked away. I need to be committed to the state hospital. Nobody in the outside world can seem to help me."
"You're drunk," the cop told him.
"Yeah, I'm drunk," Jack said, "And I need to be committed to the State Hospital."
During his rant, another cop called Ray B., and he showed up at the station to take him to an AA meeting. Jack was furious. Everyone in town was in on the conspiracy to prevent him from getting his hands on a bottle of Valium. Ray talked to him after the meeting:
Jack was out of booze and broke, with three days left before the rent was due. He lay in bed trying to sleep, day and night, with the muffled sound of the jukebox echoing from the bar below, "Torn Between Two Lovers" playing repeatedly, and he started to think about going into treatment. On the third day of his fast, he walked over to the clinic and talked to Ray B., who made arrangements for his admission to the center.
Ray drove for three quarters of an hour through the snow covered mountains to Allenwood, stopping at the gate at White Deer Run to look at the large sign:
Helping addicts to find a meaning, a purpose and a way of life.
The lodge was the focal point of the center with a section of the building reserved for group therapy, a main meeting room with a large stone fireplace and hearth, a dining room with an open fireplace, and a large room on the lower level for AA meetings. The lodge was surrounded by cabins, an office building, a laundry and a maintenance building.
Between the hours of seven in the morning and ten at night, residents were required to remain in the lodge, with the exception of a work detail for an hour after lunch to clean offices and bathrooms, cut firewood, and wash dishes.
The intensive program was comprised of group therapy held twice a day, one-on-one sessions spent with a therapist, the work detail, AA meetings at night, and time set aside for interacting with other people in the community. Half of the people in the program were paroled from prison, and there was an even mix of alcoholics and heroin addicts.
The admissions' counselor took Jack into the dining room, and said, "Look around the room. You'll get to know everyone here in the process of finding yourself." They stopped at a round table, where the counselor introduced him. "This is Jack, boys. Show him the ropes."
Someone yelled from another table, pointing to a man headed for the coffee machine.
"Tony, you didn't ask anyone to watch your place. How the hell are you going to stay straight when you can't even follow a simple rule?" Another man followed his lead, confronting the man as he hightailed it back to the table.
Early the next morning, the community was assembled in front of the fireplace in the main meeting room. The director, a vibrant middle-aged man, began his speech:
Jack sidled up to the prettiest girl in the community and shared an amended version of his story, unaware of the vigilance of the staff. His counselor confronted him after seeing them together again:
Dave was a functional heroin addict and had worked everyday to save the money to pay for treatment. He wanted to stay straight with every fiber of his being, and Jack was given a glimpse into the degree of commitment required to achieve sobriety. He respected Dave and told him his story as honestly as he could at the time.
After thirty days in the program, Jack had managed to avoid any real confrontation in group therapy. He knew that he hadn't fooled the therapist and that his day to open the vault was approaching. He was reluctant to talk about the issue of his anxiety because there wasn't a person in the community who had mentioned having anxiety attacks. He'd sought help with his anxiety problems at the mental health clinic in Danville, and his pleas were redirected to the alcoholism counselor who thought that his anxiety could be based in his addiction. Certainly, drinking caused more anxiety at times, after a bad bout when he was hung-over, but he knew better than anyone that the attacks started long before he had a problem with alcohol. He knew that therapists suspected the use of street drugs, though he was scared to death to touch acid, thought that speed would increase his anxiety and hadn't been exposed to heroin. He knew that Valium and Librium were considered to be addictive, but he took them as prescribed except the times when he took a handful of pills as a cry for help. Neither drug eliminated the episodes, and he didn't understand why he kept asking for scripts. The pills did help to calm him, he thought, and may have been the next best thing to alcohol in partially relieving the symptoms. He didn't want to bring up the issue of the episodes with the therapist because he could say that the attacks would lessen with continued sobriety. He'd had an anxiety attack during the trip to town for a blood test a few days earlier, and he'd felt anxious every day since he entered treatment. If psychiatrists didn't have a solution for his problem, then how could a group of recovering alcoholics and addicts help him?
On his forty-second day, Jack noticed that several of the people who had entered treatment after his admission were being discharged. He knew that they could keep him there indefinitely, and he made an appointment with his therapist.
"I'm here to find out when I'll be released," he said.
"Jack, you haven't addressed a single one of your issues in group. My concern is that unless you get in touch with your feelings, you will leave here less prepared to deal with the problems that you'll encounter in daily life."
"I'm really afraid," Jack told him.
"Afraid of what?" the therapist asked.
"I don't know. That's the problem. I'm just so scared, and I don't know why. I get this aura that something awful is about to happen, and then I'm overwhelmed with fear."
He thought about what the therapist had told him. He thought about it at dinner, throughout the evening and before he fell asleep. He didn't believe that anyone could help him with his anxiety problems. He awakened at dawn's first light, got dressed and left the cabin. He followed the stream down the mountain to a highway, hitched a ride north to Williamsport and waited for the welfare office to open.
Jack was issued a check, rented a room at the YMCA, called a guy he'd met in treatment and arranged to meet him at an AA meeting that evening. He brought up the subject of anxiety attacks at the meeting, but no one claimed to know what they were. He stopped by the liquor store after the meeting, bought a bottle of whiskey and held up in his room for two days. He emerged from the room with the bright idea to give Danville another try, bought a Greyhound ticket and rode the bus to Mill Street, where he went in the tavern and drank for the rest of the day through suppertime. He asked about renting a room, but they told him that none were available. He walked over to the Monongahela River, checked under the bridge for hobos, and nobody was there. He didn't know where he could stay for the night, so he went to the bar and drank. He met a man wearing a cowboy hat and told him his predicament. "Hell, you can stay with us on the farm for a while if you like," he told him.
They called the man "Cowboy," a straight shooting, hard working, hard drinking welder who said that he was the best damn tin bender this side of the Rockies. He lived in a shell of a house that would have been easier to tear down than to repair, with a mountain of junk surrounding the house, two cows and a calf grazing on five acres of land, ten geese that roamed around the house and a homemade incubator in the attic with a dozen chicks due to hatch. Jack slept in the room with the incubator. Cowboy bought quarts of beer by the case and rarely slowed down on his drinking. He painted the inside walls with two gallons of metallic blue automotive paint, thinned with gasoline, an ever present odor in the house. The first night that he spent at the house, Cowboy told him, "Pee off the porch, the toilet don't work too well." Standing on the porch, Jack looked out at the clear, black sky with a thousand stars in sight, curious geese walking up to him and a cow grazing twenty feet away, and he thought that he'd arrived at heaven's gate. For the first time since he'd left Valerie, he was adrift in the flow of the universe.
One day, Cowboy showed Jack how to milk a cow, and a couple of days later, a hit and run driver slaughtered five of the geese. Cowboy showed him how to pluck the dead fowl, and cooked them, basted in beer. They had a feast along with fresh, unstrained milk. Sometimes Jack went into the pasture to talk to Brenda, and the cow listened attentively to his rants, her big brown eyes peering at him like she understood. One day both the cows and calf were taken to market. Living with Cowboy was like taking an extended sixth grade field trip.
Jack mourned for Brenda by walking into Danville, five miles away, to the Mill Street Tavern, where he got drunk, called Laura, who was cold as ice, and walked back to the farm. He stopped in the woods to take a nap under the tall pine trees, wishing a black bear would devour him. It was dark when he awakened, with stars peeking through the branches of the pines. The field trip was over. The next morning, he left the farm, walked down the mountain, stopped at a liquor store for a pint of whiskey and stood on the westbound ramp of I-80 with his thumb in the air and a smile on his face.
Copyright ©2012 Michael Jackson Smith
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