Him (Reunion)

“What, you’re crying already?” He is sitting in the chair Da’s friend gave me to put in my living room. I’m sitting on the couch and Zimmer the Golden Retriever is snoozing beside me. Poor guy. He had a long day. Started with the first trip to the dog park of the year in all its muddiness, then a bath at day care and 6 hours romping with dogs. My man is pooped. It’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday night and I’m a newly-single 43-year-old man sitting here on my couch in my lower-middle income apartment writing a blog post. Poor me. Poor me. Pour me …

“Another drink?” He says as He pulls a brand-new midnight blue flask with black trim out of His pocket and unscrews the lid. “You should really think about it this time. Because this …thing you’re doing with your mom is gonna hurt.”

He’s referring to a conversation I just had with my mother 15 minutes ago. We were talking about finally writing the book about my almost 14 years living with a traumatic brain injury and almost 7 years sober.

“Ah ah ahhhh,” He says, Maker’s Mark still swirling around his tongue. “Not 7 years yet buddy boy. And you know how your precious Program feels about counting your chickens before they hatch.” He lights an American Spirit cigarette and draws on it deeply.

“Go outside on the balcony if you’re gonna do that,” I say. “I’m not smoking in the apartment.”

“Yes, but I am,” He says and smiles wickedly. “Take your new rules for your new place you had to get because Kim kicked your ass to the curb because you bloody made her want to drink and stick’em all where the sun don’t shine. M’kay?”

We lock stares, Him smiling, me definitely not.

“That’s not why she broke up-“

“Please. Just say she dumped you, because that’s what happened.”

“Fine. That’s not why she dumped me,” I say. “It was a lot more complicated than that.”

“True, it was more complicated than that,” He says and pulls the coffee table over to the chair. He then kicks off the reading glasses and Blogging for Dummies and Squarespace for Dummies book and the Bluetooth speaker and crosses His outstretched legs. “She dumped you because there was a whole host of things about you she couldn’t stand and very few reasons to keep your sorry ass around.”

I come forward to sit directly across from Him. Sighing deeply through clenched teeth, I take a deep meditative breath. “No, she said the age gap is too big and we’re just at different places in our lives.”

“Right!” He said, pulling on the flask again. “Your place is you are a freakin’ janitor and her place is financially stable and she was tired of carrying your broke ass all the time.” He says. “Can’t say I blame her, can you? She decided to cut her losses and send you on your way. Let your parents worry about supporting you instead of her.”

I resist the almost overwhelming desire to grab Him by the collar and toss Him off my 3rd floor balcony. True, He’d just be there sitting in the chair when I turned around (fictional figments of the imagination are peculiar that way) but it would be momentarily satisfying.

“You need to leave. I have work to do,” I say and put my laptop back on my lap.

“Watcha doin’?” He says peering at the screen (He’s sitting next to me now. Told you he was nimble.)

“I’m reading over the first draft of the manuscript we’ve written so far,”

He raises his eyebrows. “Wow,” He says and claps my thigh. “I didn’t know you guys had started without me!”

“Trust me, you’ll get your chance,” I say as I read.

“My chance? You mean I get to be in it?”

“Well, you are the reason I discovered I could still write even better than I could before I got sick.”

“Ha! I’ll be the judge of that!”

“Yes, actually you will, because you only exist because I created you. And I’m gonna need you. So I have to get you out of the closet, dust you off and we’ll go skipping hand in hand back to 14 years ago when I really started my journey of living with a Traumatic Brain Injury and my affliction of addiction and how my parents and my sponsor and Alcoholics Anonymous and Zen Buddhism and my friends in the Program all saved my life.”

“Saved your life up until now, you mean,” He said and put His arm around me. “Considering how you felt tonight before you wrote this post, I’d lay even money that this book you’re gonna write with your mom is gonna take a hefty toll on you. Lonely nights like this one are going to get more frequent and honestly, I don’t think you have it in you. To revisit all the pain, the suffering, the isolation, it’s gonna be too rough on you pal. And let’s be frank. You don’t have the grit to relive it all again. And you certainly don’t have what you need to go toe to toe in a rematch with me. I’ll emotionally and mentally beat you black and blue,” He gloats as He shakes us both side to side.

“But, if it means I can draw you back in and make you go back out and start drinking again, I’ll be happy to contribute anyway I can!” He says as He stands up heads towards the door. “And you needn’t worry.”

“About what? Where are you going?” I asked.

He smiles as His eyes flare a fierce yellow. “I’ll bring the booze.”

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Him (Low)

“You’d probably have to do a pretty precise swan dive, but you could get the job done,” He said.

He was leaning over the railing on the six floor of the parking garage. The open-air floor; the one outside.

“Nice use of a semi-colon there, Few people even know how to use them anymore,” He said as He turned around to look at me. “Your talent for writing and $2.75 will get you a small latte.” He walked over and sat beside me leaned up against the elevator lobby.

“You thought you’d written me out of your system. Yet here I am.”

“Here you are,” I said and dragged on my cigarette.

“I thought you were trying to quit smoking,” He said and produced His trusty flask from His black cloak. “Well, you made a pretty noble effort to start the year off anyway.”

“I thought trying to quit smoking with nothing but time and access to the outdoors would be a fool’s mission,” I said.

He drank from the flask once, then again.

“Well you’ve certainly got the ‘fool’ part nailed,” He said before gagging and coughing the last pull of cheap vodka up onto His shirt. He cleared His sinuses loudly, then His lungs and spat on the wall of the lobby where the vile mixture slithered down to the ground.

“What was it you texted Dan? You decided long ago that you can’t kill yourself,” He asked.

“That’s right,” I said.

“Personally I don’t see why not,” He raised his eyebrows as it was a legitimate question in His mind. “I mean, every job you apply for turns you down. The job at QLI, the wheelchair thing, and now even your own company won’t transfer you because of the DUI. And that was three fucking years ago. Face it old buddy, this economy, this corporate climate, and every human resource director in the world has no time for prodigal sons. These days, if you don’t get it right the first time, you’re fucked. Nobody wants to give you that second chance. Might as well prove them right.”

“What does that mean?” I asked and turned to Him.

His lip curled up just a little. He knew He had touched a nerve.

“You’ve been saying since you started this bullshit that you were going to be one of the 10% who never goes back out. So what if you did, though? I hear you say all the time one of the best things about the program is y’all don’t shoot your wounded, right? So what if you’re not in the 10% ? Big deal! You go out after work to that strip club down the road from the airport, no one you know will see you there. You get tanked, maybe a lap dance, and you go home all smiles. Yeah, maybe you’ll be filled with shame tomorrow, but how will that be any different than you feel right now? At least you will have had that two or three hours of false happiness. Shit man, you deserve at least that right now. And it ain’t like you’ll cut your chances at a new job if you do because, well, let’s be honest, you’re not gonna get a new job anytime soon and people pull that stuff at your job all the time. Might as well enjoy yourself for a night.”

“I wouldn’t enjoy myself,” I said softly.

“Oh,” He said and finished the flask. “Why not?”

“Because I’ve already played the tape out in my head,” I said and looked at Him square in the face. “I would feel worse. A lot worse.”

“Tell that shit to the tourists,” He said. “You texted Dan and told him it shouldn’t be this hard. Well you know what pal, people got it a lot worse than you and if all of them jumped off a parking garage when stuff got hard, there’d be cars backed up to Pittsburgh behind all the ambulances. Maybe your uncle with two crappy legs from polio since he was 8, or your cousin with Tourette’s Syndrome and macrodegeneration. Or your friend getting her second divorce with two kids and $2 to her name. But you’re oh-so-special, this shouldn’t be that hard for you. You had that sickness. You came back from it and are trying to make sense of why. You don’t have a wife and kids so nobody will miss you except you’re sainted Irish mother and father and they have to, right? So get it over with already, you’re boring me with the melodrama. Either get drunk or jump off the ledg – where you going?”

I stopped and turned at the door into where the elevators were.

“You forgot the third option,” I said and straightened my tie. “Soldier on and live to fight another day.”

Him (The Sad Reality of what Could Have Been)

airport escalactors

I leaned over the railing and watched as He rode the escalator up to my floor. He was sitting on one of the steps and jumped up at the last moment. He strolled down to where I stood, took a big drink from the bottle of wine he carried, then leaned on the railing next to me.

“What’s the matter, Tiger? You look beat,” He said.

“I’m sick,” I said and blew my nose with a tissue from my pocket.

“I think you’ve got a bad case of S.A.D.”

“Seasonal Affectation Disorder? No, it’s not that. I have the flu.”

“I don’t doubt you have the flu, but I was talking about Seasonal Alcoholic Despair.”

I turned to Him. He smiled and drank.

“See, that’s when you can go to the gym at 2 A.M. every day, you can meditate, you can go to a meeting every week, but it doesn’t change the fact that you wasted all that time boozin’ and now you’re stuck with what you got.” He hoisted Himself up on His elbows, hocked up a huge mouthful of gluck and spit it over the edge. It landed two feet away from a woman in a business suit’s head.

“Dammit. Anyway, cheer up Ahab. At least you can take some comfort in the fact that you of all people have every reason to be depressed. I mean, if anybody has a reason to blow their brains out, it’s you.”

“I’m not even thinking about that,” I said and turned to walk up the skywalk to the parking garage. He double-timed His walking for a second so He could walk beside me.

“Eh, maybe not, but you are feeling that sting. The one all pathetic burnouts like you know so well.”

I stopped at the elevator and turned to Him, eyes sunken. “Look, I’m just weak today, okay? Because it’s really hard some days. And yes, on days like this, the only thing keeping me sober is knowing how much I’d let so many people down if I went back out. But at least I know that. I’m conscious of that. It would be really nice to have some sort of escape from this feeling, but I can’t. I won’t. I am just really sad today. So that’s what I’m doing. Letting myself be sad.”

“And that’s all well and good, but we both know it’s not the end. I give you a lot of credit, you tried a few things and they didn’t work. Well, actually you failed miserably at them,” He put His arm around my shoulders as the elevator ascended. I shrugged Him off. “You tried going to school and failed. You tried going back to the Humane Society. You screwed that one up royally. But, see, now? Now? You know you’re an idiot and you can’t do anything. And all these people you see passing by you here at the airport? The ones with successful careers and wives and husbands, children and lives? Now you know you’ll never be one of them. You’ll never be that young executive with the killer suit and the pretty wife. Shit, at your age, you’ll never even be the old executive with a wife that hates him and kids who resent him. That’s why this job at the airport is gonna suck this joyous holiday season. You’re gonna be reminded, every minute of every day, that you’re a 39 year-old wheelchair pusher scrambling for their scraps to make your rent. I imagine it’ll be especially sweet for you next month on your birthday. Driving the car your daddy gave you because you’re too broke to afford a car for yourself.”

I walked out onto the roof of the parking garage as the sun started to come up. Standing there with my hands in my pockets, He slid up beside me, never relenting.

“And you can feel good every now and then that you can still write, but what real good is it doing you? Your little blog? That cute little story you’re writing? And you must feel great about the fact that you have the story of a lifetime to write but you won’t do it because it’s too hard.” He put his arm around my shoulders again and adopted a tone of mock sympathy like He was talking to a child. “I mean, it’s awful scary isn’t it? Writing about big ol’ mean and nasty me and the brain surgery that fucked you up for good.” He took His hand off my shoulder and sat down in a cement block. He took a long pull from the bottle.

“Face it buddy boy,” He said. “You don’t work with animals, you have no dog to come home to after a day at your crappy job. And all that noble effort shit you did with school and the Humane Society only served to teach you one thing: That you are the idiot you feared you were and the best you can look forward to is a dead-end job with no future. You have no identity anymore and nothing to look forward to. And you better get used to one of the zero positions like grocery store clerk or professional office monkey you had on that list because that’s all you’re ever going to be able to do. Oh, and that thing you have going with that woman you like so much? Please. Might as well forget about that too. She has her shit together and is realistic about things, and most of all, one of those things is the limited prospects you have, my friend. Go back to Plenty of Chumps or whatever that web site was called, because I guarantee the best you can hope for is a couple dates with a women or too before they realize that despite your charm and your heart of gold, you’re just another guy with limited potential who is really only poor and lonely because he has no other choice.”

I stared down at the driveway outside the airport 6 floors below. I turned to Him. I was tired, really tired. I had decided to go home early. But not before I did something very important.

“You’re not real, neither you nor the temptation you bear,” I said. “All you are is an illusion of the solution of going back out, of the false reality of drinking my problems away one more time. An empty shell of temptation. You bring all this shame and disillusionment to me and present it as reality, as my reality. You are right about two things, though. My heart is filled with despair now. And the thing keeping me sober at the moment is my friends, my family, the woman, my sponsor. And thank God for them, they will keep me sober again and again. Right now, here, on this rooftop, I face you alone. And you terrify me. But you are not the reality I ultimately choose. You don’t get to win. Remember when I told you over a year ago that I need you? Well it turns out I need you for quite a few things. One of them is to remind me how thankful I am to have the people that like me and love me that I do.”

Tears began streaming down my face. I wiped my eyes and nose with tissue. I sniffled a couple more times and swallowed.

“You’re not real. Neither you or the despair you bring into my heart.”

Her

wicked-witch

I stepped onto the porch key in hand. As I unlocked the front door, the number continued to swirl around in my head.

188.

After upping my game at the gym to first the Stairmaster, then the treadmill, I had steadily increased the duration of the torture. Today, I had finally topped out at 13 minutes/ 1.3 miles after the lifting and I felt fantastic. Only one small (and by small I mean gigantic) problem remained.

I opened the door to find Her squatting behind a large black cauldron bubbling over with putrid, thick green liquid. Devil’s stew.

“Eeee hee hee hee hee!” She cackled as She stirred the pot first clockwise, then reverse with a large, ragged wooden spoon.

I stood in the doorway for a moment with my gym bag still slung over my shoulder. I looked into Her sunken eyes at the dull yellow light emanating from them. A charcoal black hat, tall at its peak and extending all around her crown all but covered Her face. I could really only see Her smiling lips half-covering her dark brown teeth.

“And who are you?”

“I’m Nicotine my pretty, my sweet,” She said before letting out a dry, rough hack that culminated in a thick, black phlegmy sludge that she spat into the cauldron.

I looked Her up and down again. “It figures.”

“What figures my rotten little apple core?”

“That you’d be a woman,” I said. I walked to my room, slung my gym bag on my bed and went into the kitchen to make coffee. When I turned the corner, She was there again, this time stroking a sickly black kitten with the same yellow eyes. The kitty hissed her long throaty disapproval.

“And why is that?” She asked.

“Well, a day doesn’t pass that I don’t crave your sweet smell, smile and touch. Having you around makes it all the more difficult to work out to my potential and in the end, you’ll probably kill me.”

She giggled maniacally.

“Well, not you specifically,” I said and walked back to my room. Sitting on my bed, I took off my gym shoes and socks and threw them in my closet with the rest of my gym gear. Down to just my gym shorts, I walked back in the kitchen and got out the skillet. She remained in the corner. Instead of a kitty in Her lap this time, she stroked the mane of a big orange tiger.

“You will always have the cravings my dear,” She said and stroked the tigers ears, The tiger glanced over at me, licked its chops a couple times, then dipped her head back under Her hand.

“Actually, that’s not true,” I said. “I will always have the desire to smoke. But that’s just you talking. You’re a powerful old shrew, my dear, and when I started courting you, you were so enticing. We have danced your waltz for many years. But now the shriveled up old hag you are shows forth like the woman in the bathtub in The Shining. I have every reason to quit and have for quite some time. But now, I have one more. I’m never going to be able to run a 5K or a half-marathon until I break your evil spell. And you know what? I’m even ready to Tango with a fair maiden or two. Can’t do that with Black Lung.”

She slunk up to me like a snake. Slowly sliding up the side of my body, She whispered in my ear.

“You can try the gum or vaping or cutting down,” She said and flicked Her forked tongue in my ear. “But you will never, ever be rid of me.”

“Oh yeah? Tell that to Him,” I said and motioned to the porch outside where He lay on his side, battered and bruised with a bottle of wine upturned to next Him. She gasped and ran to His side, cradling His head in Her lap.

“You two make a cute couple. And you really deserve each other. Now if you’ll excuse me …” I said before I slammed the door and sat down with my breakfast.

Him (Paying Rent)

I filled my QuickTrip travel mug full of coffee, Heath flavored creamer and Sweet ‘N Low and went outside on the porch. Cigarette lit, I drew on it and sighed a deep sigh. I had seen that Mitch texted me when I checked my phone inside. Now it was time to read. But just knowing that he had texted me at all made me grin. A little.

“What the hell are you so happy about?”

“Jesus! Where the hell did you come from?” I said and reeled back in my chair.

“Lookin’ for the heart of Saturday night,” He said. “Turns out it was in the floorboards,” He said and pulled Himself from where He had been lying face down on the porch and into a sitting position. He surveyed around Him until He found what He was looking for. He drew on the last of the vodka in the Barton’s pint, draining it. “So. Your little friend’s comment certainly hit you where you lived, didn’t it?” He looked like a garbage truck had run over Him, but he still managed a toothless grin.

“Yes, I suppose it did,” I replied. He examined the bottle under the last of the street light, then chucked it out onto the front lawn. “I would appreciate it if you picked that up before you left,” I said.

“I would appreciate it if you did it for me, asshole,” He said, stood up and stretched. “You drove home none too happy that Mitch said what he said and you fumed about it all through the night and into the morning. Didn’t you?”

While he was talking, I looked at my phone again. There it was. “Mitch AA 1 new message”. I clicked on it. I read the one sentence message and grinned, but only a little. “Yeah, I guess I did,” I replied.

“What do you losers call it when somebody gets to you? Oh yeah. He’s livin’ in your head and not paying rent. He slept blissfully last night and had no idea that you spent the last 6 hours debating out everything in your head. Whether you should be happy being at the Humane Society, if you’re settling just because they were kind enough to take you back, whether you should do what Tim and your old man want you to do and find something that pays better, and on and on. I know you didn’t think about drinking, but you certainly wallowed in the place where drinking got you. Which is almost as good.”

I had to play this hand close to my chest. For once, I had Him and didn’t want to give that away too quickly. “I’ve just been thinking about what else I could do.”

“Which is nothing, but hey, if it makes you feel a little better to fantasize that what Mitch said isn’t the truth, go for it,” He said and sat down in the chair next to me. Even when He was wrong, somehow He managed to be right. At least a little. On a dark day. “You should just take Mitch at his word because he is right. All you can do is take care of some fucking cats and you wake up early to meditate or yoga-size or whatever makes you feel better about being a burn-out today. But in the end, that’s all you do. Keep telling yourself its noble work. Seems to be working out well for you.”

Now, I let the snake loose.

“I have no illusions that what I do right now is easy,” I said. “And you know what, I will turn it into something more. And if it doesn’t and I jump ship and decide to do something different, that’ll be up to me. But that’s not the issue.” I shoved my phone in His face so He could clearly read what Mitch had written:

“Dude, I apologize for being insensitive with my comments.”

He stared at the phone, then shoved it away. I shoved it back in His face.

“It’s the 10th Step, in case you were wondering. ‘And when we were wrong promptly admitted it’,” I said. “I‘d say 6 hours is pretty prompt don’t you? Or, put it another way, he paid his rent and we’re moving on.”

He pushed my hand away again.

“Ya see, I may keep working with the cats and I may move into another position at the Humane Society. And I may jump ship and find something else altogether. I don’t know what I will do in the future, but what I will do in the present is be thankful that I have friends like the Mitches who know when they screwed up and apologize pretty damn soon after. Because a lot of people don’t have that. And what I’ve said before in meetings about its too bad that there’s a not a Life Anonymous meeting for people to take some of the guidelines we set out in the program? Yeah, this is one of those times. Because whether or not it’s true, Mitch knows he did hit me where I live and that it hurt. So he apologized and I forgave him and life goes on. No harm, no foul, no being butt hurt until I get over it or Mitch apologizes 3 weeks from now as though he had just made a wiseass remark and I shouldn’t take it too seriously. Over, done with, gone. And a couple of the other Mitches even checked in with me to make sure I was cool. And the storm clouds moved on and the sea remains calm. And me and the Mitches and Dan and Greg? We’re all in this together.”

I walked out on the grass, picked up the bottle, and walked back on the porch. I came up in front of Him, cinched up His belt extra tight until He yelped a little and I shoved the bottle at His chest.

“So run along,” I said and pushed Him down the stairs. “Go crawl back under your rock and sleep it off. I got cats to care for.”

Him (Rude Awakenings)

                I saw Him coming through the door out of my peripheral vision and kept eating. He didn’t go to the counter to ask, merely strode over to the soda fountain and filled up my water bottle that was half-filled with brown fluid. He came and sat down across from me at the table. He took a big swig off the bottle, then screwed the lid on.

                “What’s the point of Coke without Jack?” He mused. He lay back in the chair, two legs on the floor with the chair tilted back against the wall.

                “Quite the nutritious meal you have there,” He said. “Two burgers to go with the fries, I see. Hope that doesn’t slow you down at the gym.”

                “I’m not going to the gym,” I said. “I’m just going to go back and walk dogs for a little while.”

                “You just can’t plant your face far enough up that place’s ass can you? You’re going to have to go home and write this post eventually. Whatever. I’m patient. And apparently so are you. Patience of statue, really. Of course, you have no other choice. God knows when you’ll ever get laid again anyway.”

                I stopped and winced. I didn’t even have to look at Him to know He was smiling. Not the grin, either. A big, wide, toothy smile. Well, the three teeth that were left. I put my burger down and glanced up at Him.

                “What did you say?”

                He leaned over onto the table and His filthy, ashen face inches from mine.

                “Get … laid.” He said slowly. “At the rate you’re going, I’d say you’re on pace to have sex again …” He glanced at a watch that wasn’t there. “Never. I expect it’ll carry on like that if you keep making your dating choices the way you’re making them now.” He drank.

                “Going out with her wasn’t about getting laid,” I said and started on my second burger. “I really liked her.”

                “Oh, and she obviously liked you too!” He exclaimed. “After all, she nicknamed you “Gorgeous” and she touched your hand in that special way and that was a pretty knock-out outfit she had on last night too. Of course, all the flirty flirty nonsense ceased right when you … come on, say it …”

                “Tried to kiss her,” I finished and stuffed a handful of fries in my mouth.

                He giggled maniacally. “And … what …” He stifled back laughter. “… next?”

                “She pulled away,” I said.

                “She shrunk away from you like the Black fucking Plague is what she did,” and burst into His trademark cackle. When He had gotten His eruption back under control, He continued. “What was that she said?”

                “She said something about not kissing people like that,”

                “And?”

                “That she just wanted to get to know me first.” I mumbled.

                “And all that horseshit about she wants to focus on herself right now and not think about a romantic thing and blah blah blah.”

                I couldn’t take his taunts any longer. “I told her that I had asked her out on a date and she had said yes and in my book that meant she was romantically interested in me.” My voice was rising and becoming shriller. “And she had texted me asking if I liked all younger women and I told her that she was smart and funny and that was what I liked about her and …”

              He made the motion of the world’s smallest violin playing on His shoulder. “Yes, yes, and last night she fed you that song-and-dance about how she goes out on “dates” with friends and people just to get to know them, right? Face it Ahab. She took you for a Thai dinner and a sushi dinner because she lives with her mom and probably can’t afford it herself.” He took in a big mouthful of Jack and Coke and swallowed. “Frankly I’m amazed you didn’t see it yourself when you invited her over for a dinner you would cook and True Romance at your place and she switched it up to going out for sushi. The power of the skirt will get you every time.”

                I had lost my appetite. Another old friend had returned to visit me as well. The pain of rejection is always acute, but this time it brought its brother embarrassment with him. Not embarrassment that it had happened as we were walking down the sidewalk. No, this time is was the humiliation at the notion that a younger woman as beautiful as her would be attracted to me.

              “A 22 year-old just smitten with a 38 year-old zero like you. Yep, Y’know, at her age, it’s kind of socially acceptable to have a job jockeying old people around the airport. At your age? Means you’re a Grade A, First-class, No-Holds-Barred burnout.”

          He drank the last of the Jack, then wiped His mouth. The sky had become sunken and dark. The sun had vanished behind a wall of dark clouds.

          “How long did you think about it?”

          My hands froze as I was wiping my mouth.

         “Come on. How long? 5 minutes? Half hour?”

         “Fuck you.”

           “I know you thought about it cuz I was there with you. For 2 minutes, you thought about drinking,” He sneered.

                “Academically,” I whispered.

                “Bullshit. You thought about going to your old liquor store just down the street from her house and getting a little vodka, didn’t you?”

                “No, I didn’t,” I said, a little louder this time. “I thought about it for a couple minutes and then did what Luke always said to do and played out the tape in my head.”

                He leaned back against the wall again. “Doesn’t really matter. I’m not worried,” He said as He picked at His fingernails.

                “Why not?” I asked.

                “It’s pretty simple really,” He said. “See, even if you somehow manage to get the girlfriend and get married, all it takes is a divorce after 10 years or so and you’ll come back to me. Or you lose a job, one where you take care of those animals you so cherish, or some other such tragedy occurs. Doesn’t matter. I know you will come back eventually because someday, the whole reason you got sober in the first place is going to disappear.”

                “I got a sober for a lot of reasons.”

                “Maybe, but the biggest ones are 67 and 68 years old. And yes, they may love you dearly and would do anything for you. But they’re gonna be dead someday. Then you’ll have no one to hold you accountable because they will be gone. You’ll ignore calling your sponsor. I’ll convince you that people go off the wagon all the time so what’s one slip. And I’ll sneak up the same way I snuck up last night, sitting in the back seat of your car and you none the wiser,” He cracked open the flask He had produced from His cloak. “And I’ll slowly steer the car to the bar the same way I almost got it in your head to steer towards the liquor store. It’s only a matter of time. So, as I said, I’m patient. We’ll see.” He took a slug.

                “You didn’t almost do anything,” I said and quickly gathered the remains of the meal and headed towards the trash can. I looked over at the counter and the employees were gone. There were no cars in the parking lot or the drive-thru. None passing on the street. Just me and Him in the motionless, timeless void of my heart. I turned and stared back at Him.

             “It’s never gonna happen because-“

             “Because, because, because.” His smile lowered to a complete, dead-pan stare. “We’ll see.”

Him (A Heavy Bat)

                 “Well, you made it through the fire without drinking. Kudos and crap.”

                He sat in the recliner in the living room as I sorted through the mountain of bills and other mail on the dining room table.

                “Can’t take credit for that,” I said. “That was Greg’s doing,” I said.

                “Ah yes, your old buddy Greg. He was your first sponsor wasn’t he?” He heaved himself off the chair and staggered into the dining room. In the process, He kicked over a stack of boxes with a stack of books on top. The books cascaded to the floor with a crash. Essential Buddhism tumbled over into the corner, open to the section on the Noble Eightfold Path: Right understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation. He glanced at this page for a moment, then chuckled.

                “Well, you’ve certainly got a lot of work to do on that third one, don’t you!” He cackled madly until He started coughing vehemently. He hacked up a big gob of crap and spat it on the floor, then cleared His throat and pulled off His jug of wine He dragged alongside Him. “Greg will certainly attest to that. I mean shit, your first pet-sitting job off the bench and you almost burn the whole house down? Yeah, you could use some work on that Right Action shit alright. Miracle Greg didn’t kick you out then and there.”

                “He is my friend, Friend’s don’t do that,” I said as I gathered up the books and stacked them neatly in the corner.

                “It doesn’t hurt that your name is on the lease and you know it. Fucking idiot,” He pulled from the bottle. “Kinda sucks that he wasn’t your sponsor when you lit the house up. You could have bullshitted him about how you were so close to drinking over it and poor you poor you pour you another drink and all that. He would have bought that the whole way.”

                “He’s smarter than that. And I wouldn’t do that to him anyway. As it turns out, I don’t need to. I have a new sponsor,” I said and collapsed into the recliner, exhausted. It had been a rough month.

                “Oh yes, Dustin. That guy that gave you that bullshit book. What was it called? Zen and Being A Drunken Moron?” He smirked.

                “Zen and Recovery,” I corrected Him. “And no, not Dustin. In fact, I’d be kind of afraid of this guy if I were you.”

                He did a spit-take all over His shirt and the floor. Wine dribbled from His nose and mouth. “Afraid ?!? Of one of you losers? Jesus Everloving Christ. Why should I be afraid of one of you zeros?”

                “Because he’s not a zero. He’s got more sobriety than almost anyone I know in the Program except for maybe Mac. And trust me, you do not want to piss Mac off. He’ll take his cane and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”

               “Oh yeah? And what about the new guy? What will he do?”

               “I’ll run circles around you, I know that,” Dan came walking through the door carrying gifts all my friends across country had sent.

               “Who the fuck is this guy?”

               “I’m your worst nightmare,” Dan said.

              “Dan, meet Him,” I said and motioned to Him.

              “You’re a lot shorter than I expected,” Dan said. “What are you, 5 foot even? Not very intimidating.”

               “I don’t need to be tall to be intimidating, asshole,” He said and sidled up to Dan’s chest.

              “Believe me, I understand,” Dan said, who shove past him and arraigned the yoga mat, sage and shell and frog rattle on the bookshelves. He went back out to the porch and got all the other housewares that were gifts I had bought with the money all my new friends had sent and stacked them in the kitchen to be sorted later. “I used to have my own demon. Nearly got the better of me once, too.”

              “Standing in the doorway with Dan on one side of Him and me on the other, He glanced back and forth between us, a confused grimace on his face.

              “Then what the hell are you still doing here?”

              “Proving peons like you wrong. One day at a time,” Dan said and smiled.

              “I don’t understand,” He said and brought the bottle to His lips. Suddenly, Dan back-handed the bottle across the room. It hit the wall with a CLUNK! and dropped to the floor on its side. Red wine poured out, ran to His feet and collected like pools of blood. The look of demure bemusement never left Dan’s face.

            “Then I’ll explain it,” he said. “My friend here has played with his cards close to his chest for the last two years. Wouldn’t want to give you any kind of heads-up about what’s coming your way, would we? Greg helped ease him into sobriety and took him into his house. Dustin gave him the book detailing the parallels between Buddhism and sobriety. Now I’m here to make sure he has the tools in the toolbox to fight you when he needs to and succeed where he can. And he’s already doing it.”

            “Oh do tell.” He now pouted with His arms folded.

           “The first talk we had as sonsor-sponsee, Dan instructed me to do something that felt totally foreign but turned out making sense. I just asked my supervisor how I was doing and she said I was doing fine.”

           “Good Christ,” He said. “You needed him to tell you that?”

           “Yes, I did. I wouldn’t have had the wisdom to think of that on my own. Dan does,” I went to the kitchen and returned with a cuppa for me and Dan. “Little stuff like that is the kind of thing I wouldn’t think of by myself. Dan’s gotta few 24 hours under his belt and has the presence of mind to know some of the right questions and know when to ask them. My friends Jon and the Donnas and Tess and Lisa and the Deborahs and Tom and Jeff and all the rest of them brought me to Dan. And now I bring Dan to you. Don’t worry. You guys will get along swimmingly I think.”

Him (Dependence Day)

I cleaned up what little there was to clean up after the meeting that never happened. It’s Independence Day, I told myself. Of course there was no one here.

“There was no one here, Ahab,” He commented from chair in the corner. “Not a one. That’s pretty pathetic.”

I went into the kitchen and dumped the two full pots of coffee, one regular made just the way I like it (a little extra on top of the customary one scoop. I like my coffee strong. And my coffee, my rules), and one decaf. I went in to the other meeting room and double-checked the doors (locked) and the closets (nobody sleeping in them. I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard it’s happened). Turning the lights off again, I passed through the kitchen, turned the light off, then walked back in to the main meeting room. He was still sitting in a chair in the corner, His feet propped up on the table and His arms crossed behind his head.

“Wonder how many of your regulars went back out tonight, it being the Fourth and all,” He mused.

He was right of course. I have heard it said in the Program, always by newcomers of course, that they just couldn’t resist drinking at least a little on St. Patrick’s/Christmas/New Year’s/Memorial/Flag/Boxing Day. I mean it’s a holiday for God’s sake, they say. As if there is some written rule somewhere that on holidays, the rules and guidelines of AA don’t apply, at least to them. This kind of thinking causes me to have a truly Zen moment of anger and frustration at the disease yet compassion and sympathy for the diseased.

But no one? Of my group of hardcore AA friends, none of the ten showed. Some have immediate families, but some did not. I told myself that it was only because I agreed to chair the meeting (it was Maren’s turn) that even I showed up.

“Come now,” He said. Condescension was His favorite tone and the one He’s the best at. “It’s because you have nothing better to do and you know it,” He sneered and pulled from his flask. “And I guarantee you, at least 2 or 3 of your new little friends came running back to the bottle.”

“Once again, you just don’t get it,” I said as I gathered my open Big Book, my suckers and my keys. “I suppose it’s possible that some people went back because of today, but I don’t think …”

“Oh course they did,” He said. “And the best part is they’ll be so ashamed of themselves that they won’t come back.” Shit-eating grins all around, please.

“Not true,” I said. “We don’t shoot our wounded. Cindy came back, didn’t she?”

“Yep. And then she went back out. Again. Didn’t she?”

This was also true. The primary motivation for not coming back is shame. And the primary motivation for coming back is courage. To face your friends who are still sober? A little. To face yourself and admit that you need the Program. You better believe it.

“And the first time she used again? What was her motivation?” I asked.

“Because no one showed up at a scheduled meeting,” He said and bowed His head for moment.

“That’s correct,” I said. “And I’m not going to be the guy who has to sleep at night knowing somebody showed up at the meeting I chair and got frustrated enough that they went back out because there was no one there.”

“Jesus just admit it,” He said as He got to His feet and walked around to me. ”It’s Independence Day and you want to be out there at a ballgame or a fireworks show or just hanging out in somebody’s backyard like a normal person.” He got to me and poked me in the sternum. Hard. “I mean good Christ. You’re an Irishman for God’s sake. Just own up to the fact that an Irishman who doesn’t drink is like a fish who doesn’t swim. What are you going to do?”

“I guess I’ll follow Darwin’s theories and be the first fish that grew legs and walked out of the water,” I said. “I’ll adjust.”

I went back to the spot where I sit as the chairman and gathered my suckers, keys and Big Book. As I did, a car pulled into the parking space right outside the door. Larry and Brad got out. Larry’s been sober for 30 years next week. He calls himself a “man of hope.” Brad was sober for a long time, but didn’t realize that he couldn’t stay sober without the Program. I walked outside and met them as He looked on. I walked back inside, went into the kitchen and started another pot of my special coffee.

“What the hell are you doing?” I heard Him ask.

“Gonna be a meeting after all,” I yelled back. “And the boys want coffee.”

Him (Can you take it?)

“Ahh, poor little guy. Shall I get you a tissue?”

I lifted my head from my hands and looked at him. He lay in the hospital bed. Above him, monitors blipped, then blipped again. And again. I dried my face with the bed sheets and continued to stare at him. The man laying before me slept in a drug-induced coma. He would wake from that coma a few days later agitated and confused. His parents would try to calm him. They would call for the nurses. Eventually he would fall back to sleep. And they would continue to wait. To see what he would become. I broke down crying again.

“I’ll say this. You gave it a good run, this sobriety thing,” He said, looking at the man in the bed over my shoulder. “And you may last a little longer. But you will come back. And the reason I know this is because you are not strong enough.” He bent over and whispered in my ear. “Do you hear me? You aren’t strong enough to live with the fact that the stuttering, simpleton idiot that is going to get off that bed is never going to be smart enough to handle a job that pays well. And you know and I know that money makes the world go round.” He began pacing behind me as a fresh wave of despair sent me sobbing again. He chuckled at this.

“You did give it a valiant effort with the veterinary technician thing. Of course, you failed miserably because your transmission only guns to maybe 3rd gear now. I mean yeah, you use to fire on all cylinders, but you squandered it. All this Buddhist “live in the moment” bullshit probably comes in handy now that you have no choice but to live with the fact that you have limited potential. And in this workaday culture you live in, limited potential means what?”

“Limited possibilities,” I said and snatched the handkerchief He offered me. I wiped the fresh tears from my face, then saw the embroidered image of a number. There was five digits, and the first one was a 3.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“That’s the biggest income you can ever hope to make if you stay with this animal care pipe dream,” He said. He sat in a chair on the other side of the bed and pulled a silver flask from His pocket. “And maybe you’ll string together 5 or 6 years sober. But then your parents will die or you will get laid off from that non-profit you work at, part-time I might add, or you will somehow find a woman that miraculously accepts you for who you are but is really tired of picking up all the tabs. I mean really, you can name the tragedy. And you will come back to it. Back to the bottle. Back to me.” He drank long and full from the flask and burped with satisfaction.

“Why don’t you just stop with the delusional bullshit and submit a resume for a job at your buddy’s insurance company. Hell, you could even apply for a job at Kong or Science Diet or Purina or something and try to fool yourself into thinking you really do love the dogs but you like to be able to pay all your bills too. I mean admit it, with your Dad retiring and telling you this is the last time he can help you with a “new” cars, that scared the shit out of you right? So just cow, you’ll be so much happier. You’ll move to Ohio or Kansas or something chasing a job and a paycheck and you’ll become a functioning alcoholic like the rest of the country. Seriously, just knock off all this healthy eating and healthy living nonsense and get with the program kid.” He stood up and looked out the window at the setting sun. “I mean shit, at least you’ll have stopped kidding yourself.”

“That’s not true,” I said, fighting back another round of tears and only half-believing what I was saying. “I’m not kidding myself. This is going to be hard, harder than almost everybody I know. But I can –“

He wheeled around and threw his flask. It hit me squarely in the forehead. Blood ran down my face and on to the bed. I was now wincing and crying tears of pain and depression. That didn’t stop Him. He walked around the foot of the bed. I sat hunched over on the edge of the chair. Just enough for Him to kick me in the crotch and send me to a full collapse on the floor. He brought His knee up into my nose. I fell back on the floor and covered up as He kicked me over and over. He then knelt down and put his face right in mine.

“Get this straight, asshole,” He said. “You will never be anything if you continue with this animal thing and besides, either way I will win. You either stick with it, have no money and drink because you’re a failure and you know it or you give it up and get a nice cushy job you hate and drink because you have no purpose other than working to live. Whatever happens, I come out of smiling. ‘Kay? So what’s it gonna be?”

Him (Scene of the Crime), Pt. 2

He raised one eyebrow. “What?”

“I said the sun is shining.” I looked over at the plate-glass window, then returned to Him. “I’m going for a walk when I get home. Afterwards, I’m going to write this blog post.”

“Y’lost me,” He said.

“Let me explain so you’re jacked little booze-riddled noodle can wrap its pissy little crab legs around it because you’re obviously not getting it. What you say and what you do doesn’t matter. Just as those 2 decades I spent in the Waste Land don’t matter. What matters is Now. What I do Now is all there is. And right Now, the sun is shining. Right Now I’m going to take a drug test. Now, what will happen because of the drug test is I’ll be cleared to work at the Society again. And I’ll take care of the cats and I’ll volunteer with the dogs and maybe I’ll get the job in Behavior I want and maybe I won’t. And maybe they will clear me to work with controlled substances again and maybe they won’t. But none of that is happening right Now. Here and Now is what matters. I’m writing you and me in this waiting room and I’m trying to come up with cleverly descriptive ways to paint you but let’s be honest, you’re a pretty tired character and there’s only so much I can do with you, y’dig? Maybe, soon, hopefully, I’ll start writing the book and that scares the hell out of me because you scare the hell out of me and I have to come face to face with you and I’m going to have to do it a lot. But again, that’s not what is happening right Now. Now is what matters. The Now of this moment in this story I’m telling and the Now of the guy sitting in his room that just felt a huge sense of relief because he realized why he was writing this post in the first place. What doesn’t have a place in this Now in the story and in my life is you. You will come back, I know this. And I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. But that won’t happen, because there is no bridge.”

“How’s that?”

“There is no bridge. There is no future, just as there is no past. There is only Now and what I choose to do with it. For instance …”

Suddenly and with no warning, He became a hippopotamus. The flask fell on the floor because hippopotamus’s don’t have thumbs.

“That’s not funny,”

“Yes it is. Quite funny actually,” I said. “So is this …”

He was now a hippopotamus with a chef’s hat on and a ladle soaked with spaghetti sauce in his mouth.

“Hmm. Nah, I can do better than that,” I said and, instantly, He morphed again, this time into an enormous gorilla sitting slumped over with a paper birthday party hat in His head and a noise-maker in His mouth.

“Change me back asshole,” He said, his words muffled by the noise-maker which expanded and gave a pitiful little “Fwaaa” when He spoke.

“That’s better, but not the best I can do. Let’s try …”

He morphed into a kiddie wading pool with His face blended into the edge of the pool (I sat on a big rock on the middle.) Two little girls in pretty pink bathing suits frolicked in the pool, splashing and giggling.

“See. My reality is the only reality that matters when I’m writing the story,” I said and smiled wide.

Turn me back goddammit!” He screamed in a voice like He’d inhaled a whole balloon filled with helium.

I sighed. “Oh, alright,” I said and He turned into a water lily floating around the kiddie wading pool and the little girls wore bicep floaties and danced around in a circle, arms hooked, singing “Ring Around the Rosie.”

“There. Perfect,” I said. The people in the waiting room and the staff behind the counter resumed their normal faces and activity, but He remained a floating water lily. “Andrew Sigler?” the receptionist said loudly. I stepped into the pool and zipped up my jacket half-way.

“See, my reality. Right here. Right Now. I know what I want to do with that future. It’ll take work and yes, often there will be drudgery and boredom. And often there will be excitement and joy. I will fall in love, I may fall out of love, and when I email a woman from Match.com later. unbeknownst to me, I may be emailing the love of the my life and this universe for me. And I may not. But it will be my Now, my life. And, sorry guy, but you don’t seem to have a very prominent role in it.

He was sitting across from me in the normal waiting room again. His flask had returned to His hand.

“Hate to deprive of you that,” I said and the flask was in His mouth. He choked on a big pull of vodka. “It is, after all, all you have. You can keep it. I don’t need it.”