From Chapter 21 ("Maintenance") of "Half-Assed":
I could still smell the foamy dogshit in my Jeep, blended with a trace of 409 all-purpose cleaner. There was no way Bill got it all; that fucking dog rode on his knees, its ass aimed in my direction, the shit pouring down into the Jeep’s middle console, filling cupholders, slipping into the rubber folds of the gear shift, an area not even my mechanic could reach without dismembering the whole interior.
When it happened, earlier that morning, I remained calm, as calm as possible: I clenched the steering wheel, covered my mouth and rolled down the window. It was the fifth time in as many weeks that the dog lost its load in my car, and each time Bill would blame me for not getting the dog to the park quicker.
Even before the dog became incontinent we’d cover the passenger seat in towels before a trip to the park, on account of the ungainly boil on Lucy’s hindquarters that constantly leaked and smelled like a used coffin. The seat’s fabric would soak up the revolting smell and mete it out onto whoever rode shotgun. With the top down it was hardly noticeable. But with the top up—especially in the ninety-degree heat—it was like sharing a microwave oven with a disease.
Getting shat all over was a profoundly apt metaphor for my current state of life. The only bonus was that Bill—in spite of blaming me for it—would always hook me up with an extra Suboxone for free. Or an extra Xanax, if they were in season.
I rolled down both windows. Fortunately the Jeep’s back window tore off during one of my trips to the ER the previous summer and I still hadn’t replaced it, thereby permitting a nice draft of fresh, morning air through the two front windows and out the back. This lasted from the Mass Pike onramp in Newton Corner to the Brighton tolls, where, as usual, the morning rush hour traffic was backed up and I slowed down to five mph. Without the airflow another wave of shit/all-purpose cleaner rose up in the Jeep. I tasted it in my throat and gagged.
I inched along, stop and go, all the way to the expressway exits, where I split off for South Boston. Not only was I on the verge of vomiting, my bladder was about to erupt as well; again, another regular part of my morning routine. I was usually in such a hurry to leave Bill’s house each morning (because I had to go home and get ready for work and because being there was like being trapped in a serial killer’s basement) that I often left without peeing, after drinking two large coffees at the park. By the time I reached exit 24A (South Station), like clockwork, I was gripping my penis, my hand a sort of tourniquet, cutting off the flow of blood and stemming the rising tide of urine through my urethra. Within three blocks of my condo my foot would start tapping and I would sway to and fro; if I hit a red light I would pray to God. By the time I parked I would lean out of the driver’s seat and pee on the sidewalk. Sometimes I wouldn’t even make it and just soil the right leg of my sweatpants.
Most people wake up in the morning and go for a jog or make coffee and read the newspaper. My morning ritual for the last twelve months was:
-- Wake up before 6:00, frantically drive to Waltham by 6:30.
-- Get yelled at or get the silent treatment from a crazy pedophile.
-- Pay $15 for a drug that no longer got me remotely high, only prevented me from getting sick.
-- Have a dying dog shit all over my car.
-- Stand outside, rain or shine, for one hour.
-- Drive home in rush hour traffic.
-- Pee down my leg.
-- Shower and go to work.
On the bright side, my Crohn’s was well behaved. My appetite wasn’t as fierce as it was earlier in the year, and I didn’t make it to the gym as much, but the number of bowel movements was still low and my weight was still high, somewhere north of 180 pounds.
I didn’t take into account that narcotics—especially opiates and benzos—make you constipated and bloated.
So there’s that.
Yesterday was my first sober Thanksgiving since 8th grade. I felt a bit shaky, like a man awaking from a 25-year coma, forced to relearn all of the mundane rituals in his life. Or like a tourist setting foot in a strange land. Old Colony Ave., the main street outside my house, was post-apocalyptic quiet when I went out for my morning cup of coffee, but still I stood tepidly on the sidewalk, across from the Dunkin Donuts, waiting for imaginary traffic to pass by.
I have been sober for fifty-one weeks, but yesterday felt like day five all over again.
When I woke up that morning, at a little past 9:00, my first thought was panic: Fuck! Bill’s gonna kill me! Oh shit…oh shit…He’s probably already at work! I probably have twenty missed calls from him! Bill was my old supplier—not quite a dealer, not remotely a friend, just a guy I used to know who procured a certain drug I liked. Rather than sell me quantities of this drug for profit, Bill would only sell me one dose per visit, at cost. His condition was that I drive him and his dog to the park near his house, in Waltham, for one hour, and then drive him to work at Home Depot by 9:00 AM. This meant I had to arrive at Bill’s by 6:30 AM, which meant I had to leave my house by 6:00. If you’re trying to calculate the timing in your head right now, don’t bother. Just trust me. I did it every day. If there’s one thing you can count on from a junkie, it’s that he will always show up for his fix on time.
My second thought was Wait…it’s Thanksgiving. Home Depot is closed. Bill will be at home. He’ll be pissed that I didn’t show up earlier, and he may ignore my phone calls, but he’ll be home. I can drive to his house and knock on his window. And if he’s not home for some reason, I can drive around the area looking for him. And if he’s not in the area, I can just sit in my car outside his house and wait for him. I have time. I don’t have to be at my sister’s until two, and I can always be late.
My third thought was Wait…I’m sober. I don’t do drugs anymore. And then I laid back in bed feeling sad. For almost fifteen years, Thanksgiving had been a drug-and-family sandwich: I’d meet Bill in the morning and get my fix, enough so that I could endure four hours of family time at my sister’s house. Then afterward I’d go back to Bill’s for another dose, settle in, blast off, eat pumpkin pie and watch the late football game with Bill, sitting in a dark living room that smelled like a mixture of dog farts, old slippers and used gauze. Then I’d walk outside into the cold night with a cup of coffee, smoke a cigarette and think to myself Life’s not so bad. It’s pretty damn good, in fact. Happy Thanksgiving. I love you all.
I pulled my blanket up around my head, forming it into a Jedi’s hood. Through my bedroom window I saw the sky—light blue and clear. Planes departed from Logan airport, shiny metal fuselages glistening under the sun. People were traveling to loved ones. Fireplaces were being stoked. Kids were sprawled out on couches, searching through texts, while parents prepared meals. The smell of turkey and butternut squash permeated through first floors and hung in stairwells. Countertop televisions broadcast pre-Thanksgiving Day Parade coverage, the tin-sounding audio of commentators channeled through one small speaker. Teenagers were at high school football games; college students were still upstairs, sleeping off hangovers. People everywhere, all over America, preparing to give and receive.
This Thanksgiving I opted to stay home while my family splintered off into other parts of the country. I politely declined any invitations to join friends, extended family and co-workers for their festivities. I had planned to enjoy the silence, to see a couple movies, hit an AA meeting, sit by my electric fireplace with a good book and a cup of something hot.
It seemed so picturesque in theory, but I had underestimated the power of the past.
I could call Bill. It is Thanksgiving after all, a day of reunion, sometimes of reconciliation, usually of overindulgence. But I haven’t spoken to him since I went into detox, and I deleted his number a few days after I got out. Still, I know where he lives. I could drive over there and knock on his door. It would be awkward at first; I’d tell him about my progress and how I was “cured” and thus able to enjoy certain things in moderation. Then he’d give me some drugs and I would enjoy them. We’d take his dog to the park, like the old days, stopping for coffee along the way. We’d pick up the Boston Herald and the New York Post and read them in the park while his elderly dog limped after squirrels and rolled in leaf piles. Then I’d drop him off and go home, maybe see a movie, then go back to his house later in the day for leftovers and the late football game…and another dose…just like the old days. It’s Thanksgiving, after all. A day of honored tradition, of old friends. Of not being alone.
I could do that, but I won’t. I forfeited my rights to indulgence fifty-one weeks ago. All that remains is my soul and my values, and today those are both intact, and for that I am grateful. And thankful.
PS - I promise the next post will be funny. Happy Thanksgiving.
According to OK Cupid, I “reply often”, a trait that is made public on the upper right corner of my profile, next to my user name and age. The words REPLIES OFTEN are housed in a small green rectangular box. The green, I presume, stands for “please proceed”, or, to put it frankly, “I am submissive”. Women who “reply selectively” get a yellow box, while women who “reply very selectively” get a red one. Green, yellow and red. Get it? When dealing with men, it helps to simplify the complexities of social interaction to a three-color system.
I do not receive a lot of messages. This is not because of my physical appearance. (I am very attractive; I have a great smile, cute bangs and a D-cup, and I do this adorable little thing when I laugh where I touch the bottom of my upper teeth with my tongue and roll my eyes—I constantly roll my eyes…in an adorable way). The reason I do not receive a lot of messages is because--DUH-dum—I am sober, and it says this loud and clear in my profile. Yes, sober. As in recovery. As in Alcoholics Anonymous. As in one night when I was living in Williamsburg with my ex-boyfriend I allegedly fell asleep naked in my apartment building’s foyer next to a puddle of puke. Allegedly.
But that was two years ago, and since then I’ve had what us alkies call “a spiritual awakening”. For me it was Kabbalah, then Christianity, then Islam, then plain-old Spirituality, then Kabbalah again. I’m totally into fundamentalism. Lately I’ve been exploring Orthodox Judaism. My dentist is an Orthodox Jew, and recently I saw her walking down the street with her husband, full gabardine, head wrap, the whole nine. She looked absolutely gorgeous. So…
…I’m good now.
Men do not like sober women. A sober woman is not easily duped. A sober woman will not do shots of Jager and let you take her home and fuck her without a condom and then Snapchat naked pix of her unconscious body to your bros. What a sober woman will do is see through your bullshit and call you on it. A sober woman is strong, together, and capable of kicking your fucking ass, bee-atch.
Sober women act; they do not overreact. Sober women do not prejudge. Sober women do not immediately scroll down to the “Income” section of a man’s profile. Sober women have tolerant, rational, open minds, and they believe everyone deserves a chance. Sober women reply often.
Last week I received a message from WAxl, an obvious homage to the icon of woman-beating himself, Axl Rose, the mouthpiece of that retardo 80s rock n’ roll jizz machine known as Guns N’ Roses. I rolled my eyes (not in the cute way) and read the message:
Hey there! I love your profile and your pix. You play music?? Awesome. Oh BTW…I’m sober too. Hope you write back. Danny
Oh yeah, I play music. I neglected to mention that tidbit because it’s not a character trait or a personal preference. It’s just…me. It’s who I am. A musician. You sorta have to be one to know what I’m talking about. I don’t really like to make a big deal of it, but since my main profile pic is this awesome shot of me with my acoustic, behind the mic at a Brooklyn coffee house, it’s usually the first thing a dude will comment on. Sometimes men are so fucking perceptive it’s almost enchanting (eye roll).
I clicked on WAxl and was transported to his profile page, where I found what I expected: late-30s white male, short brown hair, brown knit sweater, sitting on an unspecified stoop looking up at me with a safe-zone smile (as in somewhere in the safe zone between lecherous cool guy and Christmas card nitrous oxide). I scanned through the rest of his photos—all proved similar, including one on Halloween with him dressed as (ahem, eye roll) Axl Rose, standing in a group shot with Prince, Freddy Krueger and a yellow M&M with white arms. How festive. Yeah, and what is the deal with Boston? Everything is white and brown and has short hair. Where are the full beards? The Chinese military caps? The European cheekbones? The John Lennon eyeglasses?
I moved on to his profile. Mildly entertaining, somewhat original. Some clever jokes, some decent vocab. From the corner of my eye I saw that he left his SALARY blank. Whatever, but under JOB he listed “Advertising”. As in image peddler. As in sell-out. As in d-bag. As in needed something to fall back on. Yuck. Too gross for an eye roll.
For the I’M REALLY GOOD AT section he listed “crosswords”. I thought of the crossword from the back of People Magazine, where the most intricate answer is usually “Beyonce”. Then I thought, what kind of person is good at puzzles? Then I thought of the Unibomber. Under FAVORITE MUSIC he listed Nine Inch Nails (yikes), Joni Mitchell (pandering), and, of course, GnR, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith. Because that’s what every strong-willed, independent, 30-year old woman wants: a teenage boy in acid-washed denim.
And then the ultimate kick in the vag: under FAVORITE BOOKS he listed Stephen King. Did this guy grow up in a fucking Stop n’ Shop? I pictured him on Revere Beach with his bros while “Paradise City” wafts out from some Camaro and he’s all lathered up in Hawaiian Tropic reading The Celestine Prophecy or The DaVinci Code or the unauthorized tell-all of some former NHL star who snorted a lot of coke and fucked a lot of flight attendants during the ’86-’87 season. I sighed, then remembered my designated motto: reply often.
So I did. We went back and forth for a couple days with some generic banter and then he asked for my number so we could upgrade to texting. I obliged and decided my first text to him would be pass/fail: I informed him that I was about to order groceries online for the first time and that I was paralyzed with anxiety over it. Take that, Axl Douchebag! I expected him to vanish.
Nope. He texted back ten minutes later saying he understood my fear and that I should just place the order, and how he makes it a point to always move toward his discomfort. Now there’s some fucking AA scripture for you.
I moved to the grading system and gave him a B-. He asked if we could meet up soon, and I said yes, Sunday night could work.
I went commando (no makeup), wearing a black cardigan with a string of thrift shop pearls, black stretch pants and a mini skirt. I made sure I was twenty minutes late to the gastro pub, which he picked, conveniently located in my general area. (How gentlemanly, eye roll). When I arrived he was sitting at a corner table, with his chin propped on his fist, staring at nothing. Not the football game on the bar TV, not even his phone. I wondered how long he suffered through that posturing.
He was handsome enough, his brown hair longer than it was on his profile. We said our hellos and shook hands and I took a seat. Before the awkwardness could fester I asked him about his job. He shrugged and tried to downplay it but I persisted. I wanted him to describe exactly how an ad was made, to take me through the process from concept to design to the guy who hangs the billboard over the expressway. Whenever he tried to gloss over any part of the production I called him on it. A couple times he fumbled and told me that “wasn’t really his department”, to which I looked him in the eye and said, “So basically you don’t know, is what you’re saying.”
He asked me about my music, nothing groundbreaking, the same shit everyone asks a singer-songwriter such as myself, one with a fully mastered EP, her own Youtube channel and a publicist who used to work with The Supremes. He told me missed the days when records sold millions of copies, when he used to tailgate in the parking lot of Tom Petty concerts. “Tailgating?” I said, breaking out into laughter. He looked at me funny. I wanted to remind him that tailgating and music were two concepts that should not share the same bedroom, but I restrained myself.
The server came and took our order. I asked him if he had any hobbies. He told me liked to write and that he had just finished a book. “Oh, cute,” I said. “What’s it about?”
“Crohn’s Disease,” he said. “It’s a chronic bowel—”
“I know what it is,” I said. Right. Because women are dumb and sheltered and aren’t familiar with any medical conditions unrelated to the reproductive system.
“It’s a memoirs, actually. Hopefully a funny one.”
“Mm-hmm. So do you follow a special diet?”
“Well I try and eat sensibly and avoid certain—”
“So you just eat whatever you want and then cry about your stomachache. I see.”
“Excuse me? I don’t cry about anything, least of all my health.”
Heel, boy, heel.
He let out a breath and looked around the restaurant. The server dropped off his coke and my water. I eyed his coke reproachfully and fought the urge to make a comment about sugar intake. He rubbed his hands together and said “So…” all drawn-out, and then he changed tack and asked me about my apartment. Back to me. Good boy.
Then we talked about Brookline, where I currently reside. This led to mutual accolades about the city. Oh, lookee, we agree on something. Yes, Brookline’s a nice place to live. I upped the ante by telling him how much I loved Jews and Liberals, how fascinated I am with the empowerment of female prostitution and how much I hate Republicans because they’re so hateful. He nodded along through all of this, adding in the occasional “interesting” or “gotcha”. He asked me if I was going to vote on Tuesday and I quickly returned with “I’m not registered in the state of Massachusetts”, followed by a little smirk, just to quell any bullshit he might give me about civic duty.
The food came. Pan-seared trout for him and roasted chicken for me. I expected him to get the hangar steak with French fries but he surprised me. After a few moments of chewing he asked me about my band. I told him it was in a rebuilding stage. He asked if the band had a name and I said yes, two names in fact: my first name, followed by my last name. It took him a moment to realize (can I get a halleluiah) that my band was me, and some other musicians.
“Have you ever heard of Jewel?” I asked.
“Of course,” he said.
“How ‘bout Alanis Morrisette.”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Well, there you go.” I waved the server over to take my plate away.
“Gotcha,” he said, nodding, piling his sautéed vegetables onto his fork.
“I just found a new rhythm guitarist. Her name is Brittany Lightening, and I love her. There are two people I love in this world: Jewel, and Brittany Lightening. And my dentist, so that’s three.”
“Cool,” he said. There was a lull, during which he finished his meal, cleaning the plate spotless. I wanted him to carry it to the sink himself, but the server promptly took it away.
“So,” he continued, rubbing his hands together, as if conjuring a new-and-improved form of small talk, “is your band an all-girl band, or…”
And there it was. Thank you, Gods of Kabbalah.
“Wow. That was the most sexist thing anyone has said to me in a long fucking time, Axl.”
He straightened up, confused, alarmed, and, ideally, frightened. “No, I just meant…”
“Do you refer to Led Zeppelin as an ‘all-boy’ band?”
“No, I…guess not. I mean, I refer to L7 as an ‘all-girl’ band; I think that’s how they refer to themselves, in fact.”
I’d never heard of L7, and, either way, that’s not the fucking point. The point is: after making an asshole of yourself, don’t try and rectify the situation. Period. The best thing to do when your foot is lodged in your piehole is…
“I’m sorry. I didn’t think of it that way. I didn’t mean to offend you,” he said, calmly, looking me in the eyes.
Fuck that, but okay.
I examined my fingernails. “Well, now you’re aware.”
He sat back in his chair and looked around the restaurant, searching for a salvageable change in direction. The awkwardness was his now; he owned it. After a moment he perked up and pointed to the ceiling. “Great song, huh?”
I tilted my head and listened. The song was “99 Red Balloons”. I turned back to him with a pitying smile, the kind of look you give someone who accidentally wore their underwear on top of their pants. “Oh, of course. You’re Gen-X.”
He rubbed his forehead, and without looking up at me said, “Let me guess. The 80s suck, right?”
“They’re just…sad. I think everything about your generation is sad, actually.”
“Really.” Now he was looking for the server. I waited for him to ask why his generation was sad, but he motioned for the check instead. I answered him anyway.
“I think people who hold onto things are kind of sad. Like the past. Like anything outside the present moment.” I twirled my Kabbalah bracelet around my wrist.
He nodded slowly, closing his eyes. The server dropped off the check. He threw a card in the vinyl check holder and handed it back, and then he looked at his watch, which appeared to be a Rolex.
After paying the check he told me he was tired and asked if I was ready to go.
“You look tired,” I said.
Outside the restaurant he asked if he could drive me home. I shrugged and said “sure’. Some might say that is effectively sending a message, the same people, for instance, who think “no” means “yes” and that eye contact means “please talk to me”. But sober women do not play games, nor do we concern ourselves with the pettiness of subtext. It was cold and I didn’t want to walk. Regardless, I was fully prepared to stonewall any sexual advances. With my can of mace, if necessary.
“You need a new car,” I said as we climbed into his Jeep Wrangler. I pointed out some rust spots creeping up from the chassis.
“Nope, this one works fine,” he said, backing out and heading down Beacon Street. I leaned over and spied the odometer, which read 172,000 miles, and smiled to myself.
We pulled up in front of my apartment building. “Well, it was great meeting you. Have an awesome night,” he said through a yawn. I turned to give him a hug but his head was leaning against the driver’s side window and he was rubbing his temples.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll talk to you later in the week then. Good night.” I climbed out of the Jeep and heard him say something just before I shut the door behind me. It could have been “you too” or “okay” or “bitch”.
Back home, inside my apartment. I peeled off the thrift shop pearls and the cardigan and got into my sweatpants. I picked up my acoustic and strummed a few chords, then I got up and turned on the GoPro camera that I keep on a tripod (I videotape myself whenever I write songs…footage for my upcoming Youtube “Behind the Music” video). I strummed a few more chords but, alas, nothing came to me. Maybe my next date will inspire me.
That’s why I reply often.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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