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
"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
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
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
"Right back at you," he said, clinking his glass
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
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.
No, not any different from babysitting, really.
We're on the non-violent ward, and the patients are highly
medicated. Long term. You feel close to some of the patients
after a while. When someone dies or is sent to another facility,
you miss them. And it helps that my roommate works on the same
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
"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
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,"
"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:
Jack-- We were called into work early. I'm so glad
that you're here. There's coffee cake and eggs in the fridge.
Help yourself to whatever you want. We're both happy that you're
going to Providence with us this weekend to see Joanne. See ya
around eleven-thirty. --Susan
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
You're so proud. You're just so damn proud. And
you're so fucking smart that you're two steps ahead of everyone
else. You shouldn't be here and either should I, but what the
fuck can you do? We're trapped, both of us, and we know that it
won't work for us. It just won't work out. Fuck, I gotta get
"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,
"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
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
Pete told him, "The doctor will make the
determination on medication, but you won't get any Valium
"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
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.
Jack, imagine that you're on a football field, and
you're in a scrimmage with drugs and alcohol. You tackle drugs on
one side, and then alcohol tackles you from behind. You need to
get off the field, but you don't know how to do it. You need
treatment. We have one of the best treatment centers for drug and
alcohol abuse in the country, nearby, White Deer Run. Voc Rehab
will pick up the tab for you. It's your best chance for a new
start. I could take you to the center tomorrow, and we can start
the paperwork now.
"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
Jack told him:
I've been having anxiety attacks since I was
twenty, and I don't know how to handle them. Drinking brings
relief, but then I have another set of problems related to the
drinking. I just don't know what to do anymore. Is there a
medication that will help?"
And the doctor replied:
Jack, I'm not going to prescribe anything but
advice. I'm not certain that you know how intelligent you are or
how lost. You need to find a direction. Get a job, something
simple that you can handle. Do your job well, and don't talk
about yourself. Sooner or later, someone will notice your
capabilities and promote you. You need to stop drinking, not an
easy task. You can see this as a turning point or keep going on
your destructive path. You have to decide. Ray B. can help you
with your alcohol problem, and we can provide therapy to help
with your anxiety problem.
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:
How long are you going to continue on your path to
nowhere, Jack? You saw the smiling faces at the meeting and
talked with people who have found serenity. Do you think that
your situation is more terrifying than the obstacles that others
have faced? I'll share with you a glimpse of my days before the
program. I was shooting up heroin in one arm, speed in the other,
with a mouthful of whiskey. I rolled off the railroad tracks just
before a train hit me. Do you think that life is just a series of
coincidences, or can you imagine, for a moment, that maybe all
the pain is leading to a greater purpose? God didn't intend for
you to waste away in some cesspool of despair. You'll understand
what I'm saying more fully as you find your way in sobriety. You
can call me at work or at home anytime, and we will get you into
treatment. I believe in you, Jack.
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.
Take a good look at the sign, Jack. Addiction robs
us of every last ounce of dignity that we have. You'll begin to
find a new direction for your life in treatment. Give the program
all that you've got, Jack. Your life depends on it. And don't
become overwhelmed with anxiety, but become absorbed in the
program. You can do it. When you've completed treatment, the snow
will have melted, and spring will be here, a great time for you
to begin your recovery.
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."
Hi, Jack, I'm Bob. The main thing is to follow the
rules. You can't leave the lodge without permission, and then,
you have to take someone with you. You'll get the hang of it. And
when you go for more coffee, make sure that you tell someone to
watch your place at the table. There's a lot of confrontation
here, both in therapy and in the community.
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:
The first order of business is to clarify two rules
that you have to follow. Number one is that there will be no
threats of physical violence tolerated here. And by threat, I
mean even the intimation to do physical harm to another person.
George, over there, told someone that he wished he could fuck up
someone in here. Stand up George. Get your sorry ass out of here,
Mr. Tough Man, and I mean now. You're going back to jail where
you belong. We'll see how tough you are when you're fucked in the
ass by someone tougher than you in the joint. I don't care how
tough someone thinks that they are here. No one needs to be
afraid of physical violence when they're working on their
recovery. There is always someone tougher than the biggest brute
of a man like George thinks he is, and I can tell you that nobody
is going to beat a community of people.
The second rule is that nobody will have or use an
addictive chemical here. You would think that the way we've
scoured this place that nobody could bring anything in here, but
it's happened. That's why we require random urine tests. All of
you would eat the leaves off a dogwood tree if you thought it
would give you a buzz. Everything in the kitchen is alcohol free,
including the extracts. You're using matches to light your
cigarettes because one of you could decide to stick a Bic lighter
up his nose for a buzz.
We are waging a war here that some would say is an
impossible war to win. Impossible, because the enemy lives inside
each and everyone of us. The enemy sees our every movement and
knows when we're the most vulnerable and strikes at our weakest
moments, the times when we're too hungry, angry, lonely or tired
to fight back. The enemy is addiction. I looked up the word
impossible in the dictionary, and one definition said 'harder
than hard,' and I knew that I could handle that degree of
Some of you think that you've got the world by the tail now that
you're in treatment, but you're going to fall flat on your faces
when temptation calls. All of you drug addicts walk around here
like you're so fucking cool, self-assured and arrogant. You're so
fucking cool that you robbed some old lady of the drugs that she
needed to survive. You've ripped off people who trusted you,
lifted your best friend's wallet, fucked his girlfriend if you
thought that she had ten bucks in her purse to steal. You've used
dirty needles and shot up air when you couldn't score. You've
shot up shit that would have killed an elephant, but you just
keep on going.
Some of you think that the program here is too harsh. How soon
people forget that they spent night after night sleeping in their
own puke, and now that you're out of the cold with a few meals
under your belt, you think that maybe you're cured. You object to
being in the lodge from early morning to late night. It's too
much, you think. You assholes can have it all back. Get up, walk
the fuck out of here and see how far you get before you're back
in jail or dead, because that's the only place that you're gonna
end up, in jail, in the insane asylum or dead with a toe tag that
says, 'Damn this guy is cool.' All of you drug addicts who end up
splitting from here walk blazingly out with your heads held high
like it was a fucking photo shoot. It's a fucking shoot alright,
a shot in the arm and a shot off to the morgue. The young drug
addicts want to live forever, and they'll die tomorrow, but the
old drunks who've wanted to die every fucking day of their lives
will go on forever. You fucking old alcoholics keep drinking
yourselves into oblivion until the day comes when you're brain is
dead, and you keep on drinking. You sneaky, fucking alcoholics
split down the mountain in the middle of the night because you've
just got to have a drink, and you think, each time you start
again, that you can handle it, but you can't even keep from
peeing in your pants.
Every time I hear an addict's story, I have to live
my entire fucking life over again because I am you. I'm here to
tell you that you can stay clean and sober a day at a time, but
it's going to be harder than hard to do. Do you have any idea the
kind of energy that it takes to be an addict, to be an alcoholic?
Straight people can't handle missing breakfast, but all of you
would crawl around on the ice naked, licking the ground if you
thought that it would make you high. The energy that it takes for
you to get fucked up, day in, day out, that energy, properly
directed, could change the world. For those of you who don't
think that you've hit bottom yet, look around you. Where the fuck
do you think you are now? Where the fuck else do you want your
addiction to lead you? You have to put the energy that you had
for getting a fix or a drink into your recovery. Tell your story
to everyone you can. Tell it over and over again until they're so
sick of hearing it that they walk away. This program is for you.
If you haven't told your story at least five times a day, down to
the last sordid detail, then you're not going to make it. Commit
yourselves, dedicate yourselves to your recovery.
I wanted to drink so badly that one day I handcuffed myself to
the radiator in my apartment and threw the key out of the window.
I had to yell for someone to get me the fuck out of the cuffs
when the feeling passed, and the feeling will pass. I was in
recovery for a long time and nothing got better. I was living in
the same shit hole, listening to my wife rip me apart. I wanted
to drink so badly that I would have sold my soul to the devil,
but then I remembered that I had already done that, and I doubted
that he would buy it twice. Then I thought, what if I hung in
there another hour, maybe all the overwhelming cravings would
pass. What if I could make it through another day, another week,
another month, another year. Maybe, all of it would pass. You
struggle everyday in your recovery, day by day, month after
month, and nothing seems to change. Then one day, you notice
something is different. You don't want a drink or a fix. That's
the day you begin to find God.
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:
Where the fuck are you coming from Jack? You're not
going to learn anything from Diane. The two of you are the
biggest fucking head trips that have ever crossed the threshold
of this facility. I want you to talk with Dave over there. You'll
learn something from him because the two of you don't have shit
in common. You may be able to charm the skin off a rattlesnake
when you're in your fucking street shoes, but you've met your
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
"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
You're going to have to learn how to deal with the
fear, Jack. You know that kind of feeling will lead you to
drinking. You can't address it alone. The group can help, and I
can help you to find some answers. But you have to open up, like
you have today, and start talking about your problems, or no one
can help you with anything. It's a cold world outside this
center, and you won't find the kind of intensive therapy that we
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