by Zac Walsh
But it is better to meet God alone than with one who might misunderstand.
The Big Book, page 63
I’ve been sober for one half of one day so far today and I decided to take a walk to really take in how proud all of God’s creation must and should be of my iron-clad will. Halfway, I noticed an empty fifth of 151 and an equally empty pint of Fireball. In between, there was a used-up scratcher. I didn’t bend down to observe the name of the game, but something in me pictures it as Bingo. I also picture the man owning the 151 and the woman, much younger than he, drinking the Fireball. I picture him letting her scratch it off even though he bought it and reminds her of this pre and post-failed scratch. I picture her scratching her arms a lot. He does not. He smokes Camels, and she smokes anything that is offered. By the time I reach my apartment door and fumble for the keys with my sober hands which act as a vibrating motel bed pumped full of quarters, I have accepted that my will, left to its own drunken devices, would lead me there with the empty fifth, but it wouldn’t be as classy as 151, and there would be no Fireball to warm me through the night. The scratcher would have something to do with a Joker.
Today is day two, which means I made it through the night booze-free. Good for me. I know you were worried. I took the same walk again only this time in reverse because I needed to stop at the liquor store on the way back. For milk. It was a pleasant walk and Pandora was doing a really good job and people were nodding and putting up a hand to say hello seeing that I was clearly rocking out and sober and each of them was really inspired by my courage and overall divine nonchalance in the face of the harrowing relentless vulture that is sobriety. I felt good. Not out-loud or anything, but from that ether space sobriety silently fills with frail, useless regret cement. I thanked God for allowing me to be sober today and for all the things I get to notice now because I am not drunk. It was a nice feeling. I noticed I was looking off to the right and that I think I tend to look to the right when I walk to help my damaged left retina partially help out my vision, carry some of the weight, and I think huh that is interesting and then, not a voice, but a thought that didn’t sound like I hear my voice in my head, said ‘look left’. I look down to see the same two bottles from yesterday with two more added. Another pint of Fireball, but instead of the 151 there was a fifth of Smirnoff Lemon Vodka. For you non-boozies, 151 Rum is a far cry from lemon-flavored vodka. Detective Imagination on the case:
First thing to glean from this detail is that the assumed man is a professional man of hard drink. If his stomach can take a bottle of extra strong rum one night and a bottle of sour, harsh vodka the next, he has been places, and most of them liquor stores. Also, no evidence of chasers of any kind, and it is reasonable to surmise she probably passed out before finishing off her spicy cinnamon Fireball, and the man made sure those bottles were bone-dry. He also likes variety, which she may not be aware of at present. It may be likely she is underaged and he, being the savvy vagabond he is, does not allow her into the store. He tells her he knows exactly what she will like. What she likes and when. She doesn’t like anything, but with enough of this or that in her, because of the previous fact, she is able gracefully to pretend to herself that she can like pretty much anything.
This time there is no scratcher and the losing ticket is no longer there. They care about loss.
I am now in line at the liquor store, still day two. I have my dog’s leash (attached to my dog) in my left hand and a gallon of milk in my right. Now the honest, open, and willing man in Recovery that I am, I drink far more coffee than my previous milk inventory can satisfy. The customer at bat is wearing a Pablo Sandoval Giants jersey and with this customer’s tremendous amount of himself, my first thought was Panda Excess which made my dog giggle. Then I remembered being judgmental is really, really bad for someone desiring and attempting sobriety. So, I stopped judging, so momentarily. Then God started in on me, using the man against me, on my behalf. Like a quiz. A chance to practice my day’s lesson.
“Winner?! HAHA! I am no winner! What? That 200 bucks I won yesterday? Shit! You know how much I had to spend on this shit to make that 200 bucks?! Winner. Fuck. I ain’t winning this game, no way. So, give me 10 of those Lucky 7’s and 6 of …”
He also cared about loss, but he loved it, or feigned to love loss as a mock of strength. Wore it on his massive authenticated by the MLB sleeve. Whereas our professional buys one ticket, fails, retrieves it and does not buy another, or if he does buy another, perhaps he won, or if he lost, perhaps he learned to not leave his loss on the ground for any passerby to see. Panda Excess learned to live life with a seemingly opposite torture. But the distance between the silence of the one and the screaming of the other is thin as it looks thick. PE is loud when he gets to the cashier. Everyone in line will know about his day, his thoughts, his follies. The Pro says only what is required to receive what he requires. Whereas PE asks while yelling, “Hey, err what is that there? That! No, that! Ya, what is that? That rum or whiskey or what is that?” I imagine the Pro being asked, “Will that be all?” to which he replies “yes”.
The whole time I am observationally zenned-out in a liquor store buying, of all things, milk. Baby, let’s get to day three and see what there will be.
Day three’s walk offered no new bottles. Before I left for our walk, I talked to my dog. Mudge, by the way. Reader, Mudge. Mudge, Reader.
“Okay, mudgeman, ready for our walk?”
“Dude, of course the fuck I am. Do you see how high I got my ears to perk and how fast I can wag this thing, even at the advanced age to which I, no thanks to you, have arrived?”
Mudge hates to dangle prepositions. He also likes to call his disproportionate member his Dangle, which I continue to tell him is not appropriate in public, but we all know who is in charge in these relationships.
“Hey asshat,” I defend myself to my dog, “I did my fair share keeping you alive. You remember the roof? The river? So, you think there will be new bottles there or the bottles will be gone or the scene will be exactly how we left it or shit, Mudge, what if They are there!”
“Who is there? What the fuck are you talking about again, this time?”
“You never listen! The essay! The Pro and the girl and the case.”
Mudge thought, what am I going to do when this guy finally cracks.
We arrive on the scene, and there are no new bottles. The other four bottles are just how we left them. I, Zac, was relieved the bottles were not totally gone with just their wrappers left behind because, let’s face it, it is day 3 and it doesn’t take much to get me to connect resurrection dots that are not admissible evidence. However, Detective Imagination (Det. I) notices there is one new piece of evidence. Yesterday there was no scratcher but today one is there, a High Roller Poker losing ticket. They got seven chances to win, but there it lay in the leaves. I and Det. I converse.
“What do you make of this development?” I ask.
“Makes me angry we didn’t look at the scratcher day 1 so we would know. Maybe we just didn’t see it yesterday. Maybe it was covered up.”
“Maybe, but it doesn’t really matter,” I try to console my friendliest, but most tenacious, part of me.
“What matters then, huh? What matters if we don’t close the case?”
“That we make something out of it.”
On our walk home from what we knew would be our last time considering that place with the bottles ‘the scene’ the three of us (I should get Mudge a badge for putting up with all of this) come around a corner to see a little girl fall off her bicycle onto the asphalt in the middle of the street. My default thought is “where the fuck are her parents!” but before Det. I can question the veracity or wisdom of my thought, we come fully around the corner to see her father, early 40’s, greying long oaken beard, vibrant ponytail down to his ass, running to her aid.
“That’s okay, sweetie! Remember, falling down is not losing. You are doing so good!”
She got up and dusted the knees of her jeans with such resolve and we got to see her ride her bike all by herself for the first time, her dad running behind her clapping so vigorously, his hair a flywheel motored by his joy. We stood at the mouth of their neighborhood street in awe at the beauty of the moment, transfixed. So far from death or empty bottles or ghosts or crime scenes or cravings for oblivion. The father, now about 40 yards away, sees me and Mudge (I hope for his sake he did not see Det. I) standing there and we started clapping for them. He stood tall and put two thumbs in the air, beaming. His daughter, recognizing this was all for her, began clapping for herself. Something of true value had been made.
The Morning Prayer in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reads as follows, “God, I offer myself to Thee – to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life. May I do Thy will always!”
Up to this point in my 37 years I have lived a total of 57 days in Residential Rehabilitation Programs for Substance Abuse, another (all combined?) month in out-patient rehab programs and a great many hours in strange church basements, folding chair-covered basketball courts and so on in AA meetings trying to make that prayer stick to my soul. Many addicts have serious issues with their Creator, especially once they are told it is not their fault because addiction is a disease, making it all the easier to blame God. The very mention of the word ‘god’ makes many addicts’ skin tighten like war drums being tuned. Add to that the Big Book’s use of anachronistic patriarchal language like Thou and Thee and Wilt, for Chrissake. Yet now, after all the losses my abuse of substance has caused myself and those whom I love to suffer, and after all the bitterness I have futilely arrowed at my Maker, all the fiery coals of anger white-knuckled, I come to appreciate the phrase as Thou wilt.
Once a flower petal wilts the inevitable next step is it falls from its source and dies. It dies next to an empty bottle and a losing scratcher. This is only day four of sobriety and my hands are not dead, my brain not wilting. My heart is grateful for that little girl and her bravery on her bike. I hope to run into her father one day, after this whole virus thing, shake his hand and introduce him to Mudge. But, as always, and gratefully, it’s not my call.
Zac Walsh is the former Editor of Arroyo Literary Review and author of An End of Speaking and Love in the Utmost. His work has appeared in journals such as Cimarron Review, Alligator Juniper, and The Platte Valley Review and in the anthologies Blood on the Floor and Small Batch.