Step 8: Make a list of all persons we had harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
Mom & Dad
Getting clean was the easy part. Not that I really had much of a choice if I ever wanted to look anyone I knew in the face again. My six-month stay at Beckwood Hills was productive and uneventful. Okay, so uneventful might not be the most honest diction. My first roommate, Drew, a radio producer whose love of jam bands was rivaled by only his inherent desire for opiates, tried to off himself my first week there. But that proved to be little more than a speed bump. We weren’t allowed to have belts so he threw himself out one of the windows in the media room. Fucking dumbass. The media room was only three stories up. He shattered nearly every bone on the left side of his body and suffered some rather severe internal bleeding, but the moron kept breathing. It’s an ironic sight, watching the EMT’s rush to pump a drug-addict full of morphine. But after that, it was nothing but smooth sailing. My softball team won the championship, the food was decent, and I even joined the book club. I thought American Pastoral was garbage, total horseshit, though maybe that’s because I was one of the only people in the club that wasn’t a Jew. It was an upscale facility not an hour from the Hollywood Hills, what the hell else did I expect? But all in all it was a pretty nice place. Definitely deserved at least three stars on Yelp!. I don’t know if you can rate rehab clinics on Yelp!, but if you can, I’ll have to throw them a positive review some time.
Thank god my parents had money and hadn’t completely given up on me. I can’t imagine detoxing and embarking on the arduous road of recovery at one of those non-profit clinics where the mushrooms on Thursdays salisbury steak look an awful lot like the mushrooms you picked off of Tuesdays salisbury steak. Speaking of my parents, they were on my list. But I’d told Derek I would come over for dinner with he and his family the day I checked out. He said he might’ve found work for me. No fucking way my old firm would take me back. Especially considering they never would’ve even hired me in the first place if it weren’t for my cousin pissing in a ziploc bag for me. Despite the support from my parents, my bank accounts had been drained by lawyer fees and the divorce. I needed the money.
I made sure not to tell anyone other than Derek the exact date I got out. I didn’t want someone familiar to pick me up and have to talk on the way back. That was my least favorite part of rehab, talking. So many fucking sob stories. So many problems. So much embracing. If any of those people walked a mile in my shoes they’d be throwing themselves out the third floor media room window like Drew. As the cab cruised down the freeway I gazed at the skyline out the fingerprint-covered window. It always intrigued me. The buildings were just so goddamned spread out. Whoops. I’m not supposed to say goddamn. Friends of Bill W. are supposed to find god, seek forgiveness, become one with…oh, you know the deal. No need to bore you with the details.
The driver ogled me through the rearview mirror. I didn’t think anything of it. Then he did it again. And again. I get that having a guy who literally just got out of rehab in your car is awkward, but what’d this prick think I was going to do, tie-off right here in the backseat? “Can I smoke in here?” I asked.
“Crack a window,” he replied, still giving me a quick glance every thirty seconds or so. You’d be surprised by how few people smoke in rehab. The movies give you this image of every recovering addict or drunk chain-smoking and chugging shitty coffee. I met some people who actually used their time away to quit smoking as well. Not me though. I liked to sit on the benches by the tennis court –yes, they had a tennis court- and smoke while I read. The soft, rhythmic noise of the rackets striking the ball soothed me. It was predictable in a comfortable sort of way. One time I dozed off with a lit cig in my hand and it burned the top corner of the page I was on. I didn’t give a shit. American Pastoral was garbage.
Two smokes later we were within city limits. “Watts, right?” the driver asked.
“Yeah.” I said, cashing my butt out the window. “107th and Wilmington is fine.”
“You sure, man? You can give me an address. I’ll take you there.”
“I’m straight, the corner is fine.” He was only looking out for me. We both knew the neighborhood. Maybe he thought I was trying to cop. But I was fucking sick of people looking out for me. I hate advice.
I had a couple hours to kill before I went to Derek’s for dinner. He lived on one of the only nice blocks in the neighborhood. One of the only areas where the sidewalks weren’t littered with children trying to make a buck. I’d heard it all before. Got that IED, that IED, two for fifteen, or maybe less bluntly, I’m taking donations for my schools football program. These kids whose balls hadn’t even dropped yet were out here counting bills, scamming, and looking out for undercovers. I figured I’d walk around and maybe get a coffee.
The driver pulled up to the corner and stopped. I reached over the front seat and gave him a couple twenties. “Keep it,” I said, waving off the change. He thanked me and mumbled some bullshit derivative of good luck. Like he had the first fucking clue. If luck were on my side I’d still be handling major accounts. If luck were on my side I would’ve never had to go into the program to begin with. If luck were on my side my wife would be able to think about me without conjuring up murderous urges. I took another look at my list.
Mom & Dad
Derek had done well for himself. He had come a long way from the booze-filled lusthound I met at UC-Santa Barbara. Happily married with two beautiful young daughters, he was also a booking agent for some of the hottest acts in the area. I could hardly stomach the sight of his daughters at the table. I hadn’t come to grips with everything just yet. Derek’s wife made a mean lasagna, and being the Italian woman that she was, kept throwing more of it on my plate. “Eat,” she insisted. “You’re too skinny. What kind of junk were they feeding you in there? Not that gluten-free crap?”
“In where?” one of the girls chimed in. I didn’t even turn my head to look at her, just lifted a glass of water to my lips so to shield myself from having to speak.
“The hospital, honey.” Derek quickly bailed me out. “Remember when mommy was in there for her kidney? Remember how nasty the food was?” She accepted this answer and went back to playing with the cheese that drooped from her fork every time she took a bite.
Weather, Obama, the Lakers. The rest of the conversation was rather humdrum. I was just postponing the inevitable. I couldn’t say what I needed to with the kids there anyways. So after dinner Derek’s wife took them into the family room to watch whatever Simpsons rerun was on that night. Derek and I went down to the basement.
It wasn’t a finished basement, to put it kindly. The cement floor would’ve been cold to bare feet. Countless cardboard boxes stuffed with useless shit lined the walls. But there was a functional pool table. And any difficult conversation is made easier over a game of pool. “So you said you might have some work for me?” I asked, once again postponing the inevitable.
“Yeah,” said Derek as he racked the balls. “It’s this blues bar. Probably the last authentic one this side of Reno. The owner was a good friend of my fathers. I stop in every now and then. Laid-back place. He doesn’t have a ton of staff. Just looking for an extra hand checking ID’s, setting up equipment, that sorta thing.”
“A bar? You really think a bar is the best place? For me?”
“I figured you’d say that,” Derek broke the triangle, sinking the fifteen into the top right pocket. “Stripes. The thing is, back in the day, this owner went through the program too. So he’s got a soft spot for…” Derek was at a loss for words. Always a sensitive guy, he was careful with how he phrased things.
“For junkies?” I was not so careful with my phrasing. As Derek sunk the twelve his eyelids opened wider. He didn’t want to imply anything that may offend me.
“No, no, no. For…umm…others afflicted with the disease he once battled.” He finally missed a shot.
“Disease?” I lined up my shot. “It’s not a disease. That’s what these sorry fucks tell themselves so they don’t have to take responsibility. Every person who ever stuck a needle in their arm made the choice to do so. A conscious choice.” We played in silence for a few minutes after that, Derek at a loss for words, and I, still, postponing the inevitable.
“Forget I said that then. I know a guy who runs a copy shop who’s looking for a full timer. But I figured a bar would more interesting to you. Rather laugh with the sinners, that sorta thing.” That was when one of girls ran down the stairs, making it halfway down before Derek insisted she not run.
“Daddy, do you guys want ice cream?” Derek looked at me. I looked at my shoes. After the uncomfortable dinner it was clear to him that I couldn’t stand to look at, hear, or be around his daughters.
“No, we’re all set. You shouldn’t come down here. You don’t have shoes on. There might be nails on the floor.” There were no nails on the floor. She turned around and started back up the stairs. This time Derek didn’t tell her to slow down.
Our game went on. More bullshit, more Lakers, more postponing the inevitable. I was never a very open person, or a very truthful one for that matter. Apologies were tough for me. Not because I couldn’t admit my own faults, I could. Anyone who’s in recovery can, to an extent. It’s just my wrongdoings were so disgraceful that even bringing them up was, frankly, humiliating. I kept thinking step 8, step 8, step 8. Luckily my perceptive friend Derek was always, well, perceptive.
“Listen,” he said. He was now chalking his cue carefully. “I’m somewhat familiar with the program. And I’m not an idiot. I know why you chose my wife’s mediocre lasagna as your first meal back in the real world.” I held my cue tightly against my chest, almost hiding behind it. “I forgive you. My wife forgives you. It was just a fucking TV, man. I don’t want to hear any more about it.” I felt like I had just passed the test by cheating and yet I wasn’t relieved.
“—save you breath.” He sank another shot. He would now be aiming for the eight ball. “We’re not the ones you need to convince. And you need to start with yourself.”
“Would you forgive me?”
“What? I just said I forgive you,” he said as he missed.
“No, I mean if you were me. Would you forgive yourself?”
“Forgive myself?” Derek furrowed his brow, confusion striking his face. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t steal a TV.” I stared directly into his eyes for perhaps the first time in years. He had a bad poker face.
“Dick,” I muttered as I bent down to take a shot. Derek laughed. “What if you were her?” I asked. “Would you forgive me then?” I sank the final solid ball. It was all about the eight now.
“Honestly?” Derek pondered. “Probably not. But like you just said, I’m a dick.” I missed my shot and set him up in perfect position for the game-winning gimme. “How is Courtney anyways?” He backed away from the table.
“I don’t know, I guess that’s a relative question, all things considered.”
“You call her when you were inside?”
“Tried to a couple of times. Found myself alone on the phone with the tone. Can’t really blame her.”
“Nope, you can’t.” Derek moved back to the table and lined up his shot. “I mean, you did ruin her entire life.” He cocked back his elbow and shot. The black ball effortlessly rolled into one of the pockets. Dick.
I decided to walk home even though Derek offered me a ride multiple times. It wasn’t any more than a three-mile walk, and besides, I liked walking. LA isn’t like New York. A lot less condensed. You could walk for ten minutes and not see another pedestrian. It was just me and my thoughts, which I appreciated since the last six months were all about me sharing every little thing that popped into my head.
I stepped off Derek’s stoop and was immediately taken aback by the summer breeze. Using a nearby lamppost as a shield, I lit the cig I had been craving for the last two hours. That was too easy. Derek didn’t have a vengeful bone in his body. He forgave me the day he realized the magnitude of my problem. They wouldn’t all be so easy. But that bullshit about me forgiving myself? Did he really think I was carrying that guilt with me? Petty guilt is human nature. It’s what separates us from those species that eat their own young. But the guilt Derek was talking about, my guilt? I had two options and I made my choice. I could either try to forget about it completely, throw it in the trash, and press on. Or I could put a fucking revolver in my mouth, pull the trigger, and throw it in the trash that way. Either method, it was going in the trash. Nobody could live with that, and I always enjoyed living, so I pressed on. Guilt in the trashcan. Only I still had to take it out to the dumpster. That’s what Step 8 was for.
I flicked my cig onto the sidewalk, crushing it with my shoe. My list had become a bit crumpled from all the sitting down and standing up. Still legible though. After digging through my pockets, I found a pen.
Mom & Dad
Nobody took the subway in LA despite the fact that, by my diagnosis, it was a remarkably efficient system. I think it had more to do with people not wanting to be seen on the train than anything. I found this funny. This is a city where every person who pretended to give two shits about the planet made sure they had three fucking bumper stickers and a couple t-shirts that showed others how much they cared. Wouldn’t using public transportation provide a sense of pride?
Immediately upon taking my seat I pulled out my pocket-sized copy of The Importance of Being Earnest. Out of all the works I read inside, some of them very heavy, I couldn’t put my finger on why it was some play by an Irish fruitcake that stuck with me. I flipped the pages but wasn’t really reading. It’s hard to focus on text when the guy three seats down from you is having an animated conversation with his own reflection in the window. It made me think, did I ever pull shit like that? Did strangers ever see me in public and grimace? Or worse, pity me? My worries were quickly drowned out by a voice in my ear. A voice I recognized. A voice I couldn’t fucking stand.
“Aaah, one should always have something sensational to read while on the train, right pal?” a man asked, noticing what I was reading. My eyes confirmed what my mind feared. Big Bo the Brit was now sitting across from me. I went to high school with Bo but hadn’t seen him in the decade since. Everyone used to call him Big Bo the Brit for two reasons. One, he was really fat. That’s how he got the big part. Remember, this was back when you could make those type of comments without some kid running home crying “bully!”. The Pussification of America, that’s what I call this “everyone gets a trophy” crap. He got the Brit part because at random times he would start speaking with a British accent. Nobody knew why. His family was German. He was the kid who thought he was better than everyone else because he actually read the books we were assigned. Clearly he hadn’t changed much. Now he thought he was witty because he could rattle off some cliché Oscar Wilde quote. He was still fat too.
“Hey, Bo.” I said, looking up at the route map to see how many stops were left before mine. Six stops. Fuck.
“Long time no see,” Bo stuffed the last bit of the churro he was eating into his mouth. We all have our vices, I suppose. “You still with that blonde?” Bo put his sausage fingers in his mouth one by one, using his teeth and tongue to consume every bit of crystalized sugar that stuck to them. “Kathy, right?”
“Courtney,” I corrected him, though I don’t know why. That only kept this already insufferable conversation going.
“That’s right. Sorry, I’m a moron.” He got one thing right. Bo rubbed his sticky hands across his baggy jeans. “Look at you, a family man! I never would’ve guessed that. I still remember that time you got an in-school suspension cause you got caught smoking the pot before Biology.” Bo was laughing rather obnoxiously. That memory had moved its way out my head. But that term, family man, goddamnit Bo. He was seemingly not up to date with the happenings in my life. I wasn’t going to tell him that I’m not a family man anymore, or even worse, why I’m not a family man anymore. I had to change the subject.
“What’s new with you Bo? Is there a Mrs. Big Bo the Brit?” He chuckled.
“Still single, still playing the field,” he then said. No shit. Bo probably hadn’t seen his cock in fifteen years, much less used it. I shouldn’t make jokes like that. I spent a good chunk of my school days giggling stoned at everything Bo did. The way he waddled through the hallways like a duck. The way his giant white shirts always seemed to attract condiments in the cafeteria. The way he breathed so loudly it was hard to take a test in the same room as him. “What made you choose that?” he asked, pointing to my book. “You never struck me as much of a reader, much less a cultured one.”
“Oh, you know…” he knows what? That I picked up reading in the rehab I had to attend after the carnivorous cunt that is reality came knocking at my door and I realized my addiction was destroying the lives of all those I crossed paths with? “You know…it was a gift from a friend.”
“Well, it’s a good one.” He stood up from his seat, using one of the poles for support. “Well worth a second read too.” I’d read it at least ten times at that point. The train stopped, beeped, and the doors swung open. “This is my stop,” Bo said. “Hey man, find me on Facebook or something. I’d love to meet your better half.”
“Yeah, take care Bo.” I said as the doors slammed shut. The train kicked into gear and out the window I saw Bo heading for the escalator, still waddling like a fucking duck.
Chatsworth was a nice neighborhood in the Valley just Northwest of the city. The orange line could get you there. Once my parents outgrew the noise and playfulness that littered most of the city they relocated here. Good schools too. Courtney and I considered the area at one point but a decent home there was far beyond our budget. Not only did I need to cross my parents off my list, but also they likely knew where Courtney had moved to and I desperately needed to find her, if for nothing else than my own solace.
The second I knocked on the door I heard the scattering of footsteps inside. Knowing my mother, not only would she be expecting me; she likely had a plate of Reese’s Pieces cookies fresh out of the oven. The smile on her face when she opened the door sickened me. I didn’t deserve it. And her warm, never-ending hugs that once solved all my problems now just reminded me of how I went astray. I was completely submissive to the faded memories and the promise that they implied. She was so kind. She always thought the world of me. Hell, she still did. She would never admit her only baby was anything less than a perfect soul in an imperfect world, even though every sign pointed to quite the opposite.
I sat on the couch in the living room biting my nails as she poured lemonade in the kitchen, gossip about her friends running through the walls. I could care less that Mrs. Henderson down the street had bought the same gargoyle for the front porch as my mother and then accused her of copying. But if there was one person in the world I didn’t mind faking a smile for, it was my mother. She had kept all the issues of Sports Illustrated they received over the last few months neatly stacked in a magazine rack. She knew I liked to skim through them and critique the journalistic inadequacies whenever I visited. They were organized by date, with the two most recent ones sitting out on the coffee table, waiting for me to dive into.
She came and sat next to me on the couch, getting so much joy out of watching me drink a glass of lemonade. “Dad home?” I asked.
“He went to the drug store. Should be back soon.”
“Ma, I’d love to stay all day, but I got some business to attend to. I can swing by for dinner later this week. But there are some things I need to clear up.” Her eyes were already beginning to water. Like Derek, my mother was far too kind to hold a grudge, so my words were meaningless. But I felt like I’d be cheating the program I’d grown to respect if I handled this apology like the one with Derek.
“Oh, that’s okay,” she put her hand on my knee. “You know your father and I will always love and support you.”
“I know, but Ma, the money, the constant worry. I’ve made your life a life a lot tougher than it needs to be. What was it Dad told me? That for the last 10 years you couldn’t sleep at night because you were worried you’d be woken by a police officer knocking on your door?”
“You know your father. He’s like you. He doesn’t say much, and when he does, it doesn’t always come out right. We just want you to be healthy and happy.” She lifted her hand from my knee and used it to dry her eyes.
“I am healthy. Staying in shape, eating better.”
“You still smoking?”
“No,” I laughed her question off, playing it cool as I mashed down the pack of cigarettes whose shape was clearly visible in my pocket.
“That’s good dear. But what about the second part?”
“Happy,” she said, bringing her hand back to my knee. “How are you doing with that?”
“Making progress, but I need to find Courtney, Ma. There are some things I need to say.”
“You really think that’s a good idea?” That’s when I noticed that all the family photos had changed since the last time I was there. None of me over the age of eighteen. None of me and Courtney. None of anyone and Kimmy.
“I’m not trying to jump into bed with her, Ma. It’s part of the program. It can’t end like this. I need to make things right, you know, atone.”
“A little late for that,” my father said as he came into the house carrying a bag from the store. “You might just wanna cut your losses.” He was much more like me than Derek or my mother. No filter on what he said. Always skipped the pleasantries. Honest in a brutal way that nobody wants to hear.
“Dad,” I mumbled. I looked away from him. It’s not like my father and I had some hateful or abusive relationship, more of one just filled with mutual disappointment. We’re talking about a guy who started his own bank when he was twenty-five. A very old-school type of parent. Way back when they told him I may have this new thing called ADD he stormed into the principal’s office and ripped him a new one, saying that a five year old not being able to sit still during story time was far from a disorder that required medication.
“You find work yet?” he asked. A rather typical question from him.
“Yeah, Derek is helping me out. Working with sound equipment for some acts, maybe a little security.” I made being a bouncer/roadie sound elegant. He just nodded his head and went upstairs to put his supplies away. My mother was already writing down Courtney’s address on a sticky note. Echo Park, I should’ve known. Courtney always straddled the fine line between punk rock and prom queen. She and her friends would tweet about the evil corporations while sipping on a latte from Starbucks. It was those kind of inner-battles that made Courtney so interesting to me. She was complex. Flawed and hypocritical in the most noble ways.
I grabbed the sticky note and gave my mother a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Ma. Seriously, dinner, next week. Any night works for me.” I headed for the door. I suppose I could’ve gone upstairs and talked to my father more, have one of those minimalist heart-to-hearts that the strong-silent types have, like in a John Wayne movie. But I didn’t. Once I was down the sidewalk far enough so that they couldn’t see me out their windows, I sparked a cig, and reached into my pocket for my list and pen. Did I cheat again? I don’t really know. But I counted it.
Mom & Dad
I had heard through the grapevine that Courtney landed a job doing data entry, working the normal nine-to-five she always swore would never define her. When I got close I knew she wouldn’t be back yet. It was only 5:10, so I sat on the stoop of her building, pulled my list out, and stared at. I don’t know why. I had seen it so many times and it wasn’t like there was much written on it. I lit another cig and leaned back, letting my elbows rest on the step above the one I sat on. People watching was always a way of killing time that appealed to me, especially in Echo Park, where everyone was seemingly so unique.
A half block up in the distance I saw Courtney parallel park. She had driven the same Accord for at least five years now. She needed multiple attempts to squeeze her car into the spot. I’ll resist the urge to make a joke about the female sex. I’d become quite good at resisting urges. I lifted my shirt up to my face to check if I smelled like smoke. I did.
Courtney’s face was buried in her phone as she approached the stoop. A little more than a year ago she decided to make a conscious effort to not look at it while she was behind the wheel. I knew she cheated every now and then, but I wasn’t one to judge; everyone cheats. She did not react the way I wanted when she looked up and noticed me, though it’d be a lie to say I expected anything else. Not even saying a word she turned around and stormed off towards her car, power-walking the whole way there. I had come this far. I had to give it a shot. So I jumped off the stoop and ran after her, calling her name.
“Get the fuck away from me,” she said as she turned around to face me. “I’ll call the cops.” Courtney, always the dramatist.
“And tell them what? That you don’t like the way I’m standing on the sidewalk?”
“How’d you get my address?”
“You haven’t seen me in nearly a year, since you know when, and this is what you ask me?” I always knew how to get to her. If I could make her feel stupid for even one second she would lose her sense of logic.
“I don’t have to humor you. Lawyers say I can get a restraining order if I want, easily.”
“Please,” I scoffed. “You damn well know I never put a hand on you.” I hadn’t. I was no saint but I had my values. She just shook her head.
“After all of this,” Courtney said, “and you still think you’re a good person. You never hurt me or cheated on me, so what? You’ve spent all this time insisting you’re not like the bad people, but you’re worse than them. They’re at least aware.” She opened her car door.
“Stop!” she screamed. “I’ve seen the fucking movies, I know how this goes. Don’t come to me for forgiveness, you won’t find any. I knew I should’ve hired a babysitter that night. Even the most reckless teenager would’ve been safer than you.”
“Court, you gotta believe me. I haven’t slept since. All of my thoughts have been with you and Ki—“
“—Do not say her name!” Courtney screamed. “Don’t you dare you bastard.” I had expected resentment and tears when I saw Courtney, but this was pure anger. The hatred could be seen in her eyes. Heard in the tone she had never used with me before. Felt in the air she was breathing heavily.
“I know there’s nothing I can say or do to make things right, but for my own well-being, I need to—“
“—Fuck you and your horse!” She interrupted me again. Courtney always fumbled figures of speech. “You, having the audacity to even come here, much less give me another one of you bullshit apologies, it’s disgusting. What are you, high right now? A little warm out for long sleeves, no?” She looked closely at my eyes, trying to find any signs of intoxication. She found none, much to her chagrin.
“No, I’m clean. And I’m staying that way. It’s time to move on.”
“Well good for you. Must be nice having the opportunity to move on. Must be nice having the opportunity to walk, to see, to fucking breathe. It’s not a just world. If it were, you’d be the one found dead in the street while someone you cared for and counted on was whacked out on the couch.” I had never heard it put so bluntly or accusatory, even in legal discourse. She was right. It wasn’t fair. I got a second chance. Actually, it was more like a thirteenth or fourteenth chance. “Don’t you ever contact me again or I will get that restraining order.” She got into her car. “Prick,” she muttered as she slammed the door and drove off. I figure she just drove around for a few until I left the area, which I did, but not before grabbing my list and pen.
Mom & Dad
I couldn’t cross her name off. That was blatant cheating, even by my questionable standards.
The cemetery was vast. I couldn’t begin to guess how many corpses rested below my feet as I walked through. It was beautiful though. The tall trees that surrounded it created a shadow that covered most of the graves, but towards the center of the cemetery beyond the reach of said shadows sat a few stones in the sunlight. That’s where I was headed.
I was still unsure of how I felt about my interaction with Courtney. Of course it didn’t go well. Things were said, all of which I probably deserved, but I felt a warped sense of closure.
I reached the grave I was looking for. It was small and simple. No fancy design, no inspiring quote, no brief biography.
Kimmy June Grant
September 4, 2008 – January 12, 2014
* * * * *
We gave her that middle name because both of our mothers were huge June Carter fans. It seemed cute at the time. I remember the day Courtney told me she was pregnant. We were both unsure how to react. We loved each other and were pretty confident that we’d get married, but we were both just twenty-three, and Courtney was still finishing school. I like to think I was a good father when I was attentive and sober, which unfortunately, wasn’t nearly often enough. When I was a boy I vowed to do all these awesome things and never get married. Why bog yourself down with spousal duties? Who wants to have sex with just one woman for the rest of their life? That’s what I told myself. But when I saw Courtney give birth to Kimmy, all of those of those shallow adolescent ambitions left my thoughts immediately. I was completely acquiescent to Kimmy’s newborn needs. This is what I wanted. It was the second most memorable moment of my life.
One night in January of that year, Courtney went out with some of her friends from college to celebrate someone’s masters thesis or something like that. I was to watch Kimmy. I didn’t really mind. Courtney needed to take the edge off. Ever since Kimmy was born, our social lives had been overrun by our parental responsibilities. Our few friends were the parents of Kimmy’s friends. That’s how it works. Courtney and I settled for the mundane yet rewarding life we both once feared. We didn’t get to experience our twenties, that glorious time when you have complete freedom but aren’t really an adult yet.
This was in the prime of my dope fiend career, a prime that lasted longer than it had any right to. Courtney wasn’t stupid. She knew I was using something, yet she was ignorant to the full extent of my substance abuse. I often forgot to attend things when I was off getting wasted. She just figured it was a little bit of speed or something here and there to start the engine, like the shit she knew most of the guys at my office used. I had also honed my skills at hiding the usage. I stayed in relatively good shape, ate a lot of protein, and took care of my skin. Also, long sleeves. Always long sleeves. I would rub facial cover-up on the inside of my elbow to cover up the tracks. It worked better than you probably expect at first, but sure enough, my arm eventually looked like a battleground. One time, stupidly, I held my arm to the burner on our stove, biting a belt for the pain, watching the skin bubble for what felt like eternity. The scar is grotesque, but it looks like what it is, a really gruesome burn. I told Courtney that I made a clumsy mistake when filling gas. I don’t know if she believed me. She never called me out on it.
Kimmy wanted to go to the park down the street that evening, but I was tired. And I really wanted to just get her to bed so I could get high.
“Can we go? Can we go?” she chanted, jumping around with the enthusiasm one only feels as a child.
“I’m tired, honey.”
“Then can I go?
“It’s going to be dark in an hour. I don’t want you crossing the street or walking on the sidewalks alone.”
“You know what? I have an idea,” I said, flipping through the channels. “Before bed, we can make Oreo sandwiches and I’ll read to you.” She accepted this answer and ran into the kitchen, getting the milk from the fridge, then pulling a stool across the floor and standing on it in order to reach the Oreos at the top of the pantry. The great thing about compromising with children is that they haven’t yet grasped the concept of leverage.
Ever since I showed Kimmy the innovation of Oreo sandwiches, she was addicted to them. Take two double-stuff Oreos, pull the top off one of them, and make a sandwich. Dip in milk for best results. That night, I let her have as many as she wanted. She put back a whole sleeve by herself, even made a triple-decker.
“It’s a tower,” Kimmy said, holding it up to me. I cracked a smile so to appease her.
“Alright, brush your teeth real good and get in bed. What story do you want me to read tonight?” Our children’s literature collection wasn’t all that impressive. Goodnight Moon, some Dr. Seuss stuff, the new and grossly overpriced Dora the Explorer books. They were all the same to me. Repetition, rhyme, happy ending. I suppose, in a child’s mind, comfort could be found in their consistency and predictability.
“I’m sleepy too,” Kimmy let out a yawn, which fooled me at the time. “I think I’ll just go to bed now.” Perfect, a win-win. After she went upstairs, I waited twenty minutes. She’d be out by then.
Buried in the depths of my sock drawer was a leather pouch filled with supplies. I turned the TV down to a near mute so I could quickly detect any potential movement from upstairs. I took my socks off and unzipped the pouch, taking out a needle, a bent spoon, some tiny cotton balls, and a tiny balloon filled with the stuff. It was raw. Something new my guy said, sold well, strong enough to smoke for the white people scared of needles to some in A-bombs. Those were his words.
After I burned myself that aforementioned time I swore I would stop shooting and revert to a less physically obvious method. But then I learned that the foot, specifically the veins between the toes, was an option; and one that didn’t require a tourniquet. The things we often swear to ourselves that we’ll never do seem to always be the first in line when desperation hits.
The tender bit of skin there made it painless, and the sensation ran up your leg and through your body before you began to feel a head high. It was like a warm swig of whiskey on a winter’s day. I put the junk on the spoon and dropped in a bit of water with the syringe, bringing my lighter below it, watching it bubble. I dropped one of the cotton balls into the mixture, making it poof into a piece of black matter. I drew from it with the needle, watching the tube fill.
The second I injected the stuff, seeing the tube consume my thin blood, I felt it shoot up my body. It wasn’t even enjoyable. It was too much. You’re on another planet during those first few moments, numb to everything. I leaned back on the couch. The second I regained some feeling I put all the paraphernalia back in the pouch, and leaned back again. Within minutes I nodded off. I was out cold. I thought Kimmy was too.
I awoke to Courtney in the front door screaming at me and crying, trying to charge me, but being held back by a police officer. All her friends were there crying as well. The ominous glare of flashing blue and red lights was visible through the window. When Courtney paused from cursing at me to take a breath, I could hear radios calling in and photographs being snapped outside. I knew then and there, but for some reason, felt I needed visual confirmation.
I was still fucked up but not so much that I couldn’t get up to my feet. I walked towards the door, the cop giving me the most disgusted look. He wanted to beat my ass right there on the spot, or let Courtney and her friends do it, I could tell. Outside, in the middle of street, not thirty feet down from our stoop, was a crime scene. Yellow tape, police, fire, ambos, the whole nine yards. A crowd had gathered and the cops were pushing them back so the investigators could do their work. It was fucking chaos.
I was able to branch away from the crowd and get a better view of what was going on. Still in a daze, the only thing that ever hit me harder than the dope was what I saw, though I’ve tried to forget the few details I recall.
A car, I remember the exact model, ’04 Toyota Camry, was empty sitting the middle of the street. Its driver’s door was open. Police were looking inside the car for evidence. In front of the car about twenty feet, on the pavement, was the chalk outline of a body. A child’s body. Kimmy’s body.
In the days following, Courtney checked into a hotel, and the details of the accident began pouring out. I was advised to stay inside and not answer my door, phone, or to talk to anybody. That night when I nodded off, Kimmy snuck outside to go the park. A six year-old sneaking out, only my flesh and blood. She must’ve seen me on the couch and assumed I was sleeping. The police said that she left our front door cracked open so she could get back in. She was crossing the street when WHAM. The Camry, going at least fifteen over, smashed into her. She was declared dead on the EMT’s arrival. Six years old.
Initially, it appeared I was going to be charged with criminal negligence, but my freedom was spared thanks to the ability of my legal team and the stupidity of the man driving the Camry. He was drunk, hiding behind a dumpster in an alley two blocks away from the accident when they found him. The stupid fuck had jumped out of his car after he hit Kimmy and fled, somehow thinking they couldn’t trace the car to him. He became the scapegoat in the public eye. The fact that I was passed out when it all happened never really factored in to the coverage of the tragedy. All they had was Courtney’s word, and mothers of dead children tend to say crazy, unbelievable things.
But everyone in my life knew the truth. Even Derek avoided calling me for weeks, and by the time he did, I was already at Beckwood Hills, per my lawyer’s advice, though I know it was for the best. I wish I could say more. I wish I could communicate how I felt seeing the shape of my daughter’s body lined in chalk. But I can’t. I was wasted.
I once saw a particularly memorable apron at one of those chic kitchen shops. It had a couple of glasses of wine on it, and a joke written below, You can’t regret what you don’t remember. That isn’t true. Fuck that apron.
* * * * *
As I walked away from the grave I lit a cig. Some may consider it rude to smoke in a cemetery, but it wasn’t a concern of mine. The dead don’t get cancer. The dead don’t smell things. The dead don’t carry guilt. When I got to the shaded part of the cemetery I pulled the list out of my pocket, leaving the pen buried inside.
Mom & Dad
I held the cig to the corner of the paper, watching it catch fire. As the flames coiled up and began to burn my hand I tossed it into the air. It turned to ash that fell to the earth, delicately, like snowflakes. I flicked my cig on the ground and stepped on it.