By John Sullivan
Billy was in the kitchen cooking breakfast. His daughter walked into the doorway and stopped there. She put her hands on her skinny hips and stared at him.
Billy flipped the pancake cooking in the pan then turned and looked at her.
“Dad, what’s a junky?” she asked.
“What?” Billy asked, his voice cracking. “Where did you hear that?”
“I was arguing with Caitlyn and she said you’re a junky,” his daughter said.
Billy took a step to the left and looked over his daughter and into the living room. His son was sitting on the couch, engrossed in cartoons.
“Why would she say that?” Billy asked, looking at his daughter again and trying to mask the panic he was feeling.
“Because I said her shoes were ugly,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and smiling.
“Her shoes?” Billy asked.
“It’s like they’re covered with glitter dad. They are so stupid. So what does it mean?”
“It just means that someone is a mess. Like junk, you know? Like a junkyard, but a person.”
Billy felt like he was deflating as the words fell out of his mouth. He turned and took the pancake out of the pan and put it with the rest of stack next to the stove.
“You shouldn’t make fun of someone’s shoes,” he said. “That’s not very nice.”
“But they are so ugly, dad!” she said.
“Okay,” Billy said, relenting. “Let’s eat.”
Billy served the pancakes and eggs to his children then went into the backyard and called Monkey Sam.
“What’s up buddy?” Monkey Sam answered.
“Hey Sam,” Billy said. “I think I might be ready to get sober.”
“Yeah?” Monkey Sam asked. “What happened?”
“One of Rainey’s friends told her I was a junky,” Billy answered.
“Oh man… That’s rough.”
“Yeah,” Billy replied. “It is.”
Both Billy and Monkey Sam were silent for a moment, their words held down by gravity of the situation.
“It’s a good reason, though,” Monkey Sam said, breaking the silence.
“I guess it’s the best one I’ve got,” Billy said.
“Look, I’m going to a meeting tonight. Why don’t you come? I’ll come pick you up.”
“Okay,” Billy said. “What time?”
“I’ll be there at six-thirty.”
Billy came back into the kitchen and made himself a plate of eggs and pancakes then went into the living room and sat on the couch between his daughter and son. He ate but the food was tasteless. The noise from the cartoons seemed far away. His entire mind was distant, somewhere over the line he crossed by calling Monkey Sam.
Billy didn’t know if he could be sober and he wasn’t sure he wanted to be. Life was difficult and worthy of escape at times and his drug use had never caused any major catastrophes. He had never been to prison or overdosed. He had a place to live and he provided for his kids. He had never stolen from someone he loved. And he didn’t use the drugs the way Monkey Sam had, with complete abandon…
This was not the first time Billy entertained these thoughts.
Billy looked at his daughter. She was staring at the T.V., wide-eyed and laughing. She held her fork in front of her face with a large chunk of pancake hanging off of it. She put the fork in her mouth and started chewing. She was still smiling.
Her words echoed back to Billy. “Dad, what’s a junky?” He decided that he was going to try.
Billy finished eating, picked up all of the dishes and carried them into the kitchen. He turned on the sink and waited for the water to get hot. When it did, he put the stopper in the drain, put the plates, silverware and frying pans into the water and squirted soap into the rising water.
As he watched the sink fill he realized that he had about a gram of dope in his bedroom. He immediately and automatically thought about getting high one more time.
“One last time,” he thought, correcting himself.
He turned off the water and stared at the sink, immobilized by the tug of war of his conflicting thoughts.
He wanted to get high. It was his routine, his normal way to kick start the day. But the idea of hiding in the bathroom or the garage, alone and sucking on glass pipe felt repugnant, especially with the refrain of “Dad, what’s a junky?” bouncing around the walls of his skull like some sinister and infectious pop song.
He was also thinking about flushing the drugs and being rid of them. He felt like that would be the most definitive statement he could make about his intentions going forward. But the thought of doing so racked him with a sense of unease. It wasn’t the fear of losing the drugs. He didn’t have a lot and they could be easily replaced. It was, instead, the fear of change and the fear that he would not be able to.
Unable to decide which path to take, Billy put his hands into the sink and started scrubbing the dishes. When he was finished he went into his bedroom and lay down on his bed. He felt exhausted.
Billy’s daughter came in and shook him gently a couple of hours later. Billy opened his eyes and looked at her.
“Dad, we’re hungry again,” she said.
“Okay,” Billy said, yawning. “What do you want to eat?”
“Tacos,” she said.
“Okay,” he said. “Give me like one minute.”
Billy stayed on this back and stared at the ceiling, still undecided about getting high. This struggle of fighting his desire to get high was one of the things that terrified him about sobriety. He simply did not feel strong enough to wage that war day in, day out. Giving in and surrendering, then, not only seemed like the easy answer but the rational one as well.
“Fuck it. One last time,” Billy thought and sat up on the bed.
Billy’s daughter came back into the bedroom and stopped just past the doorway. She looked at him and smiled beatifically. “It’s been a minute,” she said.
“Okay,” Billy said, unable not to return her smile. “Have you seen my keys?” he asked as he swung his feet onto the floor.
“They’re on the coffee table,” she said.
“How many tacos are you going to eat?” Billy’s son asked him as they pulled into the drive-thru.
“Hmm,” Billy said, seriously considering the question, realizing that he was palpably hungry. “I’m thinking like one hundred.”
“No you’re not!” his son exclaimed loudly. “You can’t eat that many.”
“I might,” Billy said, turning and smiling at his son in the back seat.
“I’ll bet he could eat one hundred tacos if he wanted to,” Billy’s daughter said authoritatively. “Dad can do about anything.”
Billy turned and looked at her, suddenly choked with emotion. He felt like he might start crying and he clenched his entire body holding it back. He was saved by the voice crackling out of the drive-thru speaker.
“How may I help you?”
“Uh, sorry, one second,” Billy said. “Hey kids, what do you want?”
Billy unlocked the front door when they got home and his children raced each other to the couch. His son pushed his daughter towards the couch right before they reached the coffee table and grabbed the remote control triumphantly.
“Ha!” he said, holding it up over head.
“Who cares?” his daughter said, rolling her eyes. “We like watching the same things anyway.”
Billy sat down and started divvying up the food. His son turned on the T.V. and started flipping through the channels. He stopped on a cartoon and he and his sister were laughing almost immediately.
Billy ate until he was full and then ate two more tacos. When he was finished he sank backwards into the couch and propped his feet up on the coffee table.
“I thought you said you were going to eat one hundred tacos,” his son said while gazing intently at the cartoon on the T.V. screen. “You only ate seven.”
“I guess my eyes were bigger than my stomach,” Billy said offhandedly.
“Oh,” his son said.
Billy sat up and looked at his son then looked at the taco wrappers on the coffee table in front of him. There were seven. Billy counted twice to make sure. “How did you do that?” Billy asked.
“Do what?” his son said.
“How did you know how many tacos I ate?”
“I counted,” his son said.
“But you were watching cartoons the whole time,” Billy said, confused.
“I can do two things at once dad. I’m not an idiot.”
“I know you’re not,” Billy said, convinced that he knew whom the biggest idiot in the room was. His daughter’s question echoed again, this time heavier and sharper.
“Dad, what’s a junky?”
Billy sank back into the couch and closed his eyes.
Billy woke up an hour later. His daughter was gone. His son was still on the couch. He was playing a video game.
“Where’s your sister?” Billy asked.
Billy’s son was holding the game controller in front of him, moving it back and forth, furiously pushing the buttons. “She went to Caitlyn’s,” he said.
Billy stood up and walked into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and stared into it absently. He wanted to get high.
“One last time,” his mind said.
“Just a couple of hits.”
“No one will know.”
“You’re going to cave eventually so why not just get it over with?”
“Fuck it,” Billy thought, closing the refrigerator. He turned and went back into the living room, moving towards his bedroom. He glanced at his son as he passed him and stopped.
“Fuck,” he thought, again picturing himself hiding in the bathroom or the garage to smoke meth. It felt futile and ridiculous. His kids would know. Maybe not this time but eventually.
Billy took his phone out of his pocket and dialed Monkey Sam. He opened the front door and stepped onto the front porch as the phone rang.
“What’s up buddy?” Monkey Sam answered.
“Hey Sam,” Billy said. “I don’t know… Man, it just that I really want to get high. I’m really fighting it.”
“Of course you do and of course you are,” Monkey Sam responded.
Billy was silent for a moment then said, “I’m not sure that was the answer I was looking for.”
“Do you want to know why you want to get high?” Monkey Sam asked.
“What I really want,” Billy said, “is to not feel like I’m about to turn inside out.”
“The reason you want to get high,” Monkey Sam continued, “ is because you’re a drug addict and drug addicts get high.”
“Jesus Christ Sam,” Billy moaned. “You’re not helping.”
“Do you disagree?”
“Disagree with what?” Billy said, exasperated.
“That you’re a drug addict.”
Billy was silent again. “No,” he said finally.
“Fantastic!” Monkey Sam said.
Billy was irritated. “What’s so fucking fantastic about me being a drug addict?”
Monkey Sam met Billy’s annoyance with somber calmness. “What’s the first step in solving a problem?” he asked.
“I don’t know Sam, what?”
“Realizing there’s problem Billy.”
Billy was silent again.
“I’m serious,” Monkey Sam said softly and earnestly. “You can’t fix something until you know it’s broken.”
“Okay,” Billy said. “But what do I do until I start fixing the problem?”
“You’ve already started,” Monkey Sam said. “In the meantime, just hang on and don’t get high. I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”
Billy put his phone into the back pocket of jeans and stood on the front porch. He thought again about flushing his dope but he hesitated again. This time he wasn’t thinking about saving it. He just didn’t want to go near it. He didn’t want it in his hands.
He opened the front door and stepped back into the living room. “Hey boy,” he said to his son.
“Yeah dad,” his son said, still mashing furiously on the video game controller.
“Do you want to go with me to get some coffee? I’ll get you some cookies or something.”
“Sure,” his son said. “Give me just one more minute.”
“Okay,” Billy said. “Let me text your sister.”
Monkey Sam knocked on Billy’s door at six thirty. “Knock, knockity, knock, knock.”
Billy recognized the knock and opened the door.
“You ready?” Monkey Sam asked.
“Yeah,” Billy said. He turned to his kids who were sitting on the couch eating pizza. “I’ll be back in hour or so. Are y’all sure you’ll be okay?”
“Sure dad,” his daughter answered.
“Okay, call me or text me if you need anything.”
“We will,” his son said.
Billy turned back to Monkey Sam and nodded and they stepped outside.
Billy pulled the front door shut and said, “Sam, do you think you could do something for me?”
“What’s that?” Monkey Sam asked.
“There’s a bag of dope in the top drawer of my dresser. Do you think you can flush it? I mean, if that’s cool,” Billy added quickly.
Monkey Sam looked at Billy and smiled.
“I was scared to do it,” Billy said.
“Sure,” Monkey Sam said. “Give me a minute.”
Monkey Sam opened the front door and went back inside. Billy stepped off the porch and walked towards Monkey Sam’s car parked at the curb in front of the house. As he approached the car Billy raised his hand and waived at Anastasia who was sitting in the front passenger’s seat. She smiled and Billy opened the back door and climbed in.
“Hey Billy,” she said once he was in.
“Hey,” Billy said sheepishly.
“So you’re going to do the deal?” she asked.
“I’m going to try,” he answered. “I mean… I want to. I need to.”
Anastasia turned on her seat so that she faced Billy. She picked up a pack of cigarettes and extended them towards him, flipping the top of the box open as she did.
“Thanks,” Billy said, plucking a cigarette from the pack.
Anastasia handed him a lighter. Billy lit the cigarette and pushed the button to roll down his window. Nothing happened.
“Is the child lock on?” he asked.
Anastasia leaned across the front seat and pressed a button on the driver’s side door. “Try it now,” she said.
Billy did and his window rolled down. He took a long drag on the cigarette then blew a jet of smoke out of the window. “I just don’t know,” he said. “I feel like the whole thing is impossible. I mean… I know people get sober. You and Sam got sober but I just don’t know if it’s something that I can do. It doesn’t feel like something I can do.”
Anastasia was listening to him, nodding her head gently.
“I’ve never been sober,” Billy continued, making air quotes with his fingers. “And I’m not even sure I want to be sober. Not completely anyway. I just don’t want my kids thinking I’m a …”
Anastasia grimaced compassionately. “Yeah, Sam told me what your daughter said. That’s rough,” she said.
“Yeah,” Billy said. “Really rough.”
Anastasia looked at Billy searchingly for a moment. “Billy, what’s the Grand Canyon like?” she asked.
Billy looked at her quizzically then said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been.”
“If I told you its tremendous and beautiful would you believe me?”
“Sure,” Billy said. “I trust your judgment and I don’t have any reason to doubt you.”
“What if I told you sobriety is tremendous and beautiful?” she asked.
Billy didn’t answer.
“I’m not talking about not getting high for a few days, with every cell of your being craving dope the whole time. I’m talking about transcending that. I’m talking about freedom from the obsession to change the way you feel inside. I’m talking about existence where life is completely acceptable just the way it is.”
“Okay,” Billy said, uncertain still.
“It’s beautiful Billy,” Anastasia assured him.
Monkey Sam opened the driver’s side door and climbed into the car. “All gone,” he said.
“Thank you,” Billy said. “I really appreciate that Sam.”
“No problem,” Monkey Sam said. “That’s how this deal works.”
Monkey Sam parked the car, opened his door and climbed out. Anastasia turned around in her seat again and looked at Billy, who had not moved.
“Are you nervous?” she asked.
“Yeah, kind of,” Billy admitted. He clasped his hands in his lap and looked up at the ceiling. “I just don’t know what to expect,” he said.
Anastasia smiled. “I find it best to try not to expect anything,” she said. “Things usually work out better when I just experience them.”
“Okay,” Billy said, doubt still lingering in his voice.
“You ready?” Anastasia asked.
Instead of answering Billy opened the car door and climbed out.
Anastasia followed. She took out her cigarettes as they walked through the parking lot. She held the open pack to Billy. He took one.
Monkey Sam was standing by the front door of the building smoking and talking to two guys Billy didn’t know.
“Hey Anastasia,” they said in unison as she and Billy approached.
“Hello,” she responded.
“Hey Billy,” Monkey Sam said. “I want to introduce you to Gilbert and Peter.”
“I’m Peter,” the one closest to Monkey Sam said, extending his hand.
“Billy,” Billy said, extending his.
“Sam said this is your very first meeting ever,” Peter said as they shook hands.
“Yeah,” Billy answered.
The other man extended his hand towards Billy. “Gilbert,” he said. “We’re glad you made it.”
“Thank you,” Billy said, shaking his hand.
After they all finished smoking they went inside. Billy sat between Anastasia and Monkey Sam.
Monkey Sam turned towards Billy. “So tonight is a speaker meeting.”
“What does that mean?” Billy asked.
“Just that someone is going to get up and tell their story,” Monkey Sam answered. “Like how incredibly and impossibly fucked up they were and how they got well.”
Billy looked around the room surreptitiously. People’s emotional states seemed to run the gamut. Billy noticed that the people sitting by themselves mostly looked angry, bored or just generally miserable. The people in pairs or in groups were mostly laughing and smiling and seemed happy to be where they were. Billy was glad he was there with Monkey Sam and Anastasia.
Billy noticed a guy about his age sitting alone near the front of the room, next to the small podium resting on the table. His head was bowed and his eyes were half closed as if he were praying or engaging in some type of contemplation. Billy thought he looked familiar. He turned to Monkey Sam. “Isn’t that Klondike?” he whispered, nodding his head towards the front of the room.
“Yeah,” Monkey Sam said. “He’s the speaker. He’s telling his story.”
The meeting started and Klondike stood up, put his hands on the podium and looked around the room. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Thomas and I’m a recovered drug addict.”
“Hello Thomas,” the room responded.
“The first time I ever considered getting sober was after I found my sister overdosed on a couch in a house I shouldn’t have been in. The second time was about a year later when my best friend Bobby got sent to prison because he couldn’t pass a drug test. About six months after that I came to my first meeting and coming to that first meeting was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I was terrified that what I found here wouldn’t work and I was terrified that it would.”
Klondike paused and Billy looked at Monkey Sam and then at Anastasia. “Thanks for bringing me,” he whispered to them both as he stared straight ahead towards the front of the room.
“Now,” Klondike continued, “ I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.”