Vignette II

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“I am so over meth,” she exclaimed, without a hint of irony.

Her teeth, occasionally radiant but mostly dulled and frayed from years of foreign deposits inhaled, shone semi-bright in the glimmer of the two-p.m. sun. It was brisk, but not chilly. She was warm, but still cruel.

Neither of us had desk-jobs, so we were free to meander and dip in-and-out of epiphany as we saw fit during working hours. She draped herself in a grey cardigan with cigarette burn-marks tied haphazardly around her neck.

“How could someone work so hard to accomplish so little?” When she posited this, I was unsure if she was asking it rhetorically of herself, or sincerely to me. That I had to bother to think probably tells you enough about both of our prospects.

Her contract work was steady, but hardly sufficient. She was one of those girls who drew calligraphy in chalk on supermarket displays – “A price-artist,” she proudly boasted, to anyone who cared, and there weren’t many – “Bananas, $0.49/lb.” was some of her finest work. It paid alright, but the gig ran weird hours and often involved her coming home covered in musky chalk-dust and causing her precocious toddler to fend off sneezing fits for 45 minutes or so.

I often asked her what the next logical step was from such a unique position. I asked again this afternoon: “I don’t know,” she said between sips of dark roast Cafe du Monde. “I suppose open up a graphic design agency for interior commercial displays, but, like, that’d require start-up capital and industry contacts and I’m fucking lucky if I can pop enough Adderall to make it to the studio without forgetting why I went there in the first place.”

“Well,” – and I didn’t mean to force the issue or put a blunt edge to such a soft skin, but – “don’t you think if you sat down for a few hours in between jobs, you’d be able to develop a course of action? You know, complete the DADA?”

DADA was an acronym from one of those overly-powerful self-help conferences the two of us earned free tickets to after graduating the program together. You know, the kind where some charismatic Ivy League-graduate from Old Money caustically preaches on stage and looks like the spawn of an NFL Coach and the Cheerleading Captain.

Anyway, DADA stands for:

Dream, Analyze, Decide, Act.

It’s stupid. So much code. As if you can distill life’s essence into something so cute and cuddly as to sap the complexity right out of directing the human vessel through a stormy sea of incomprehensibility. I’m not even quite sure why I brought the damn DADA out of the dusty bin of recycled cliche. Perhaps as a half-joke, since full-on earnestness is tough to achieve when you’re only half-invested in someone else’s well-being.

“I suppose I could,” she replied. “But, between feeding Alicia and my illness, I can’t even begin to keep up much less think about how I’ll get ahead.”

“Remember what we talked about in Baton Rouge?” I implored her.

– “The night we …”

“Yeah, that night. We talked about how many hours a day we’re given. A finite quantity, but the same vast expanse of seconds as Nelson Mandela and Kurt Cobain and LeBron James. We can become the masters of our destinies if we simply become the masters of our days. At least … I think that’s what we said.” I briefly perked up, only to be blown back into a slouch by a stinging gust of wind.

Sometimes I feel like a blind man pulling a paraplegic across a river. Getting clean wasn’t difficult. It never is. Cessation of a bad habit is as easy as surviving the first 21 days. If you’ve ever held a day job long enough to understand, then you know how quickly three weeks of doing the same thing over and over passes once you look back and wonder, “The Fuck am I Doing Here?” It’s a reverse-engineered DADA which fittingly resembles a Darkest Timeline of Omission. (That’s a phrase for a progressively deteriorating condition forged not through actively poor DADA management, but through a lack of implementation altogether. It vaguely sounds like a third-rate Gothic Metal Cover Band.)

That’s the rub on getting clean – and why so many fail, not just in staying clean (and sometimes not even staying clean) but at progressing beyond a grey, idle homeostasis.

It’s well known in English that the opposite of Destruction is Construction, but the program, the DADA, and all the self-help books, seminars and quick-fixes fail to connect the distance between the two. Too many of us are told, “Stop Destroying Yourself.” Or “Build A Better Life.” But not, “How to Go From Destroying Yourself To Building A Better Life.” That involves a reallocation of time, capital and energy. Of “Inputs.” It means “Being The Masters of Our Days.”

“Yeah, but,” she said, trembling a bit yet gathering steam as she fumbled through her imperfect thesaurus, “I know I’m supposed to eat good foods and exercise and think avoid “triggers.” But, like, I feel like I’ve only been trained to be a very healthy, very clean agoraphobic. And I don’t see how I’m to derive any meaning or pleasure from any of that! Do you? Shit, you spend 22 hours a day either sleeping, sitting or watching cooking shows. You know what’s better than watching cooking shows? ACTUALLY COOKING. But I feel like nobody gives us the tools – nobody inspires us – to succeed in the kitchen.” She clearly derailed into metaphor halfway through finishing her thought, there’s no way she would’ve been clever enough to do that on purpose.

“Outputs,” I said. “Input management. What do we do? We have 24 hours. We have our health. We have all the money we have right now.” I sighed. “What do we do with it?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I am so over Meth.”

Sometimes it’s hard to believe it. Just because you’re finished with something doesn’t mean you’re over it. Sometimes it just means you’re avoiding it.

“I know you are,” I said, and I stared out into the bright, blue yonder through dark Oakley knock-offs. “Come on, it’s a beautiful day. We should go to the park.”

“And do what? We’re already outside, here, on this sidewalk. How can we make our lives better there in ways we can’t do right here?” She sounded defeated, dejected and discerning.

“I don’t know,” and I sighed. “A change of scenery might inspire us to think of something grand. We only have the rest of the day and light’s growing dim.”

I knew in my heart she was right. She was right the whole time. We graduate from the program. We learn how to “manage” time. We learn “healthy” habits. But nobody ever tells us what to do. Nobody ever does. And so we do nothing, because everything else seems too daunting, too out-of-reach, too foreign.

But at least she’s so over meth. So that’s something else we’re not doing. Which I guess is better than doing something bad, even though doing nothing is still technically bad for you.

We climbed in my car and headed toward the park, hoping to find meaning in the trees, the greens and blues cascading together to swirl into a magical earth-toned canvas piece where we are just accent hues on a vast landscape.

But we really just wanted to enjoy a couple of hours, before we try again in vain to be masters of our days tomorrow and forever and ever, till death render us moot.

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