THE ROAD TO FORT WORTH
And other works by Michael Jackson Smith

 

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Chapter 8: Danville

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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.

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 floor.

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:

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 him.

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 outta here.

"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.

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 several minutes.

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 difficulty.

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 match here.

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."

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 offer here.

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


Overview of The Road To Fort Worth

Jack Wendell's rite of passage into adulthood began three hours before midnight on the eve of his twenty-first birthday. On his stroll across campus, he watched one foot follow the other in a rhythmic pattern and thought about time. As he stepped from the past into the future, he was stunned by the realization that the present moment was so fleeting that it couldn't exist. His breathing became shallow and feelings of horror flushed through his body in spasms, like waves crashing on the shoreline, retreating, then returning in another blow. He was convinced that he had entered a portal into hell, and he endured the agony of the next three hours. When the clock struck midnight, he entered a bar, ordered a glass of whiskey, and the elixir washed away his panic with three magic bends of his elbow.

This was only the beginning of Wendell's long love affair with booze, his only relief from the anxiety attacks that haunted him in an era when little was known about the disorder. He couldn't function with the anxiety that possessed him and drank in an attempt to control his horrifying feelings, but couldn't work in a perpetual state of intoxication. On his journey, he encountered a host of unlikely companions and circumstances, including rehabs, institutions, therapists and a horde of dysfunctional people who would harbor him for a time, yet, sooner or later, he was forced onto the street again in search of another haven, where he could drink to his heart's content.

The Road To Fort Worth is a long overdue novel about a man suffering from panic disorder and alcoholism. It could be seen as a continuation of Charles R. Jackson's classic novel, The Lost Weekend. It's the story of a life on the rocks with a twist of lemon. It's the story of how one man learned to untie the inextricable knot binding two debilitating disorders that so many people have been unable to unravel. -Michael Jackson Smith

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."


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