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I've been all over the place lately. At the beginning of the summer I was plowing through the Needles, Names, and Numbers drafts, ultima...

Sunday, June 16, 2019

South Shore Sober

“The way I see it…” I begin to tell Isaac.

I’ve been seeing this fucking guy for almost three years, and I still can’t maintain eye contact when I talk to him. I still take the same pauses, it still takes everything in me to expel the poisonous shit festering in my stomach and purge it to him, and only him, because God knows I don’t disclose this kinda shit to anyone else.

He must have child clients. His walls are adorned with various certificates, his social worker certification diploma, or whatever the fuck it’s called, is chief among them. He’s ran several different meetings over the years, and has been sober damn near 30 years now. Probably more. I don’t get much out of him when I ask about his past.

“I appreciate and understand your curiosity, Harry, and while I’m willing to disclose certain elements of my past to you, I don’t feel it’s very constructive to spend time talking about me. This is about you.” He tells me.

It’s the kid stuff that my eyes always end up settling on. That, or the carpet. There’s an episode of the The Sopranos that sums up my feelings well regarding therapy. The one after Tony’s cousin Tony B gets out of prison, and through the following episodes, we slowly learn about the circumstances surrounding Tony B’s arrest and subsequent sentencing to 20 years…

You can get the fucking summary on Wikipedia, but the gist of it is this: Tony Soprano was supposed to be on a major hijacking run with his cousin, but on the night of the job, Tony S gets into a fight with his mother. He proceeds to have a panic attack, and cracks his head open on the driveway as he’s leaving his mother’s house. Tony S concocted a story about a couple black guys that tried to steal his shoes, and his racist goombah cronies bought it. But that residual guilt haunted Tony all 20 of those years…

Anyways, he comes clean about this to Dr. Melfi. Even for a fictional sociopath like Tony Soprano, you can tell a weight has been lifted from his shoulders. He still carries substantial guilt about the whole thing, but you can tell, in that moment, there’s a slight sense of hard won relief.

“Y’know sometimes, this feels like taking a shit.” Tony S says.

“I prefer to think of it like childbirth.” Melfi replies.

I always thought Tony’s version made more sense.

Isaac’s got Connect Four, a Finding Nemo branded deck of Uno cards, puzzles, and other board games on a shelf in his room. I’ve stared at that fucking deck of cards every time I’ve come in there. Isaac is not a scary or imposing man by any stretch of the imagination. But I still can’t bring myself to meet his eyes for more than a few seconds when I’m talking to him.

It makes sense for a piece of shit like me to be here.

Boo hoo, I’m a fuckin’ drug addict.

Boo hoo, I can’t stop shootin’ dope.

Boo hoo, I’m always nervous.

Boo hoo, I’m obsessed with ruining my life.

Boo hoo, I don’t deserve anything good and I hate myself.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I make myself fucking sick. But for a junky, degenerate, career fuck-up like me, this is exactly what I deserve. I have my weekly pity party, Isaac helps me as best I can, and I try. I try my damndest not to do what 99.9% of the population had the common fucking sense not to do in the first place.

And somehow, some way, I have the balls to think it’s some sort of accomplishment. The nerve.
It makes sense for me to be here. I put myself here. But a child? A fucking kid?


It’s 2003. I’m 11 years old. My Mom and Dad are fighting a lot. More than usual. I mean, they fight every night, but this time it’s more volatile. It’s starting earlier. The words we’re not supposed to say, ever supposed to say, are being thrown around the room like super balls at each other.



I never saw either of them raise a hand to one another, but I had heard them hurl every slur, insult, or searing remark towards one another for as long as I could remember.


My Dad always scared me. When I was real young, he’d get drunk, and practice karate moves on me. He never hurt me or used even half his actual strength, but just practicing with him was enough to teach me I did not want to see him on 100%. My mother never had that problem. She’d get right in his face, and never back down, no matter how much he yelled and screamed.

“Get outta my house.” My Dad’s voice lowered as he poured himself a drink.


“Maggie, I’m fuckin’ serious. Get. Out. Of. My. House. Go to your brother’s, wherever the fuck, just get the fuck outta here.”

My sister and I just sat on the couch, our stomachs in knots, more than usual. It was early afternoon, and they usually didn’t start fighting until six or seven, at least.


My Dad took a deep breath and picked up one of the dining room chairs, his teeth grinding and the rage boiling over inside him. He was only about 5’9, with glasses that gave him a bookish appearance, but the worst thing you could ever do to my old man was underestimate him.

He picked the heavy, wooden, chair up like it was a fucking lawn chair.










He swung rhythmically, on each word, reducing the entire chair to splinters with each slam against the threshold.

“Get in the car. Now. Both of you.” My mother said.

We stayed at grandma’s after that. It was there that I found out my Dad had been diagnosed with stage four Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma a few years prior. My parents had hid it from us because they didn’t want us to worry.

I don’t know how social services got involved. I was a fucking kid.

“Listen to me, Harry, and listen good. You don’t talk to anyone about this.” My grandma told me.

She was an old Dorchester lady through and through, and even though my family had moved to the suburbs shortly after I was born, she maintained her principles. You don’t say shit to nobody about nothing that isn’t their business.

“Harry, sweetie, listen to me…” My mother said after we’d moved back in.

“What, Mama?” I replied.

“There’s gonna be a lady coming over. And she’s going to talk to you.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“No, sweetie, no, you’re fine. You’ve done such a good job. But it’s very important you tell her exactly what I say. OK?”

“OK, Mama.”

I did as I was told, and the lady left satisfied. Things at home did not get better, until my Dad went to jail several years later.


I genuinely believe my parents had good intentions when they had my sister and I. Both came from fucked up homes, full of addiction and abuse and tragedy, and swore they wouldn’t carry that shit over and hand it to their kids.

But shit just don’t work that way.

But I don’t want your sympathy. Stick it up your ass. I grew up with a firsthand account of what addiction is. Dope fiends coming to my porch, asking for my father, sweaty and sick as dogs, only to get cussed out by my mother and thrown out. There was no reason for me to end up a derelict like my Dad, only somehow even more of a fuckin’ failure. Yet here we are.

Then you have my sister. I think it’s true what they say, that girls mature faster than boys. My sister knew from time she understood that her Dad was a drug addict that she didn’t wanna be that. She had to have something better. To me, my upbringing and circumstances left me no choice but to start selling drugs. The fuck else was I gonna do? I’m a fuckin’ idiot, I suck with my hands, my only skill, the only thing I ever gave myself credit for, was putting words on a sheet.

And that’s not exactly a solid career path. Especially when everything you write is ugly, vulgar, sexually charged and loaded with Cocaine and fuck words.

I do not envy my sister. I’m proud of her. I’m thankful my grandparents have her, because without her, they’d be left with me. A 27 year old fuck-up with all my Dad’s bad traits and none of the balls or charm that helped mask those less desirable aspects of his personality.

There I go, rambling again. It really fucks me up to see children here. Some of them are accompanied by single Moms, just trying their best, others are the children of junkies one bad day away from losing custody.

The Suboxone clinic I used to go to had a similar vibe. Every fucking week I went in there to drop urine and get my script, and every fucking week the doctor was late, and I’d have to sit in that God damn waiting room listening to other junkies swap war stories and parents trying to keep their kids busy. There was a basket full of toys in the corner, under the table with the magazines. Every one of them had a story about a strung out mother that wanted nothing to do with the kid, or a deadbeat Dad with identical symptoms.

It’s funny, I’m such a jaded, miserable, fuck that nothing should surprise me or disappoint me anymore. But the fucking kids, man. I look at them and I see myself. I see them growing up to be teenagers, becoming aware of their parents’ drug habits, swearing up and down it’ll never happen to them.

“How the fuck can someone do that to their children? Put that shit before their own flesh and blood?”

“That’ll never be me. With my kid, it’ll be different.”

Then, one day, they wake up, and they’re in their mid-20’s, and they got a spike prepped with a wake up shot waiting for them. Or maybe they’re not so lucky. They wake up stone sober, Hellishly dopesick, and it dawns on them.

“I’m just like my Dad.”

“I’m just like my Mom.”

What makes it even more fucked up is that I can’t stand kids. They’re annoying and I can’t relate to them on any level. But when I see one of them in the waiting room at the clinic or my therapist’s office, it breaks my heart.

I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in karma. But I think there’s something human about believing in that shit. A sense of checks and balances that ensures the bad people have bad things happen to them when bad things happen to their good counterparts.


“Where do your thoughts go?” Isaac asks.

I realize I haven’t spoken in a while.

“I’m sorry, the fuck was I saying?” I ask.

“You said, the way you see it, and then you trailed off.”

“Right. Um… Yeah… This shit is basically carrot and the stick.”


“Y’know, the thing where the guy’s riding the horse and he’s got the fuckin’ carrot dangling in the horse’s face. Only reason the horse is cooperating is because of the carrot, but he’s never gonna get the carrot, because then he’d have no incentive to keep going. That’s what this shit feels like.”

“Go on.”

I sigh in frustration. It’s really remarkable how much I suck at communicating verbally.

“Any time I wanna go out and get a bag of dope, or crank, I think ‘Just stick it out for today.’”

“Yes, one day at a time, Harry.”

“Yeah. But I don’t know. Isn’t that doing it for the wrong reasons? I should not wanna get high because it’s the right thing to do. I know shooting dope and crank ruins my life and puts everyone I love through Hell. And yet here I am, dangling the shit over my face day fuckin’ in and out.”

I look back up at Isaac, my cue that it’s his turn to start talking. Sometimes he doesn’t let me off the hook. He’s damn good at telling when I’m withholding shit and just trying to pass time. But this time his expression changes and I know he’s thinking about what I’m saying.

“Y’know, Harry, I can’t promise you anything. I can’t promise you’re gonna live happily ever after. I certainly wish that for you. You’re a very bright young man, very insightful…”

My hands tighten around the armrests of the chair I’m sitting in. Compliments never sit well with me. No matter how genuine they are, my brain will filter it as mere patronizing, a pity party on my behalf. There’s no way he actually thinks I’m intelligent. I’ve made it abundantly clear to him that my life has been a series of fuck-ups and bad decisions. No one that behaves like me could ever be intelligent, or insightful, it’s just not objectively true.

“…But one thing that I’m fairly certain will happen, provided you stay straight and keep doing what you’re doing, is that one day the idea of using will make you sick. You’ll look at it and think ‘Why on earth would I ever wanna do that?’”

I sigh. “All due respect, it’s just tough for me to ever see a day I don’t wanna get high. Even now. I’m gonna have two years off dope in a couple days, two off meth in a couple months. I’m back living on my own. I’m working full time. Paying all my bills. I got a car. I earned all that shit. So why the fuck would it even occur to me to throw it all away?”

“Because you want relief.”


I gack up a fat line of pink Cocaine, sucking it into my mucus membrane greedily as I pass the straw to my new roommate, Alex. Why the Coke is pink instead of white I couldn’t tell you, but it’s good, and that’s all that really matters.

“Aye, can I ask you something?” Alex asks, his long black hair obscuring his narrow, thin, face as he plays with the coke the way a child would their mashed potatoes at dinner time.

“Shoot.” I reply, pouring myself a shot of Jameson.

“You said your Dad was a dealer, right?”

I nod as I slug the whiskey down, beating my chest and resisting my gag reflex.

“What was that like?”

I smile. “It, uh… It made for a pretty… Turbulent home environment.”

“What was he slingin’?”

“OC’s, Xanax, Adderall, Subs, whatever he wanted, really. He had a cancer diagnosis and access to multiple doctors. Shit was different back then.”


“One time, right? I was like… 12 years old. It was right when I started fucking up bad in school. Until then I had really just coasted. It was easy for me to pull A’s and B’s without studying anything. But once school got actually challenging, my grades fell in everything but English. So my mother started punishing me. Y’know, stupid shit, grounding me, taking away my Game Boy…”

Alex nodded and finally sniffed a line of the pink powder.

“And we had this chair in the front hall of the house, we called it the time out chair, because if we ever had a time out…”

Alex nodded again.

“Anyways, the time out chair had a false bottom under the seat. You lift the cushion up and there’s a little stash spot. That was where my Mom used to hide my Game Boy. I knew that’s where she kept it, but she kept an eye on me enough so that I couldn’t sneak it anything like that.”

I could tell Alex was growing bored with my story, so I picked things up a bit.

“So, my Mom, she says ‘OK, Harry, you can have your Game Boy back. It’s under the seat in the time out chair. So I go and lift it…”

Alex’s interest was reignited, I could see it in his glassy eyes as they stay trained on me while his hands subconsciously played with the pile of coke in front of him.

The whiskey has been flowing all night. Emotions are running high. I would never tell this story sober. I would never verbalize my feelings, all the horseshit I’ve been through, ever, in a million years, sober. But that’s the thing about drugs. They say a drunk man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts. I don’t know about all that. When I was deep into crank, I waged a war on a colony of mice in my bedroom that didn’t even fuckin’ exist…

My heart begins to race as the Cocaine does its thing within my system. This is my house warming gift to Alex, a sign of goodwill that not only am I a good roommate, but a cool roommate, one that won’t go ape shit when he sees a bag of hard drugs on the countertop.

It’s funny. I love Cocaine. I fucking love Cocaine. I mean, it is an illicit drug, after all. But more than that, it’s a stimulant. All my bullshit, the whole reason I’m a derelict drug addicted scumbag without a single marketable skill or anything to contribute meaningfully to society, is because of self-esteem.

I do not like who I am.

Cocaine gives me confidence. It gives me the strength I need to bear my soul. Only problem is, the last thing another Cokehead wants to hear, is someone else talking, let alone someone else killing their high with their woe is me horseshit. So I have to be careful.

But when someone asks me directly to air my dirty laundry…

Who am I to deny them?

My heart’s racing, anxiety is beginning to overshadow the euphoria. I fling open the freezer door, nearly whipping Alex in the head as I grab the bottle of Jameson and pour myself a shot, slamming it, without so much as a water bottle as a chaser. Like the tried and true drunk I am.

“…And there’s my Gameboy. But there’s some other shit in there, too…” I say, leaning against the green countertop as I stare down into it.

Alex listens to me in silence, hanging on my every word. I love doing this shit, getting fucked up and telling stories. Feeling whoever’s listening hanging on to my every word, taking pregnant pauses to stroke my ego and flex the only thing I’ve ever been good at. It’s the only time I’ve ever felt power, felt control over other people.

“Y’know those freezer bags? The fuckin’ huge ones that hold like, steaks and shit?” I ask him, turning my inebriated gaze towards him.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” He says hurriedly, knowing what’s about to come next but still anticipating me saying it.

“Imagine one of those, but loaded, fuckin’ loaded with orange pill bottles. Suboxone, Xanax, Adderall, OC’s, and I’m talkin’ fuckin’ 80’s here man…”

We migrate to the porch, where we both light up cigarettes. This is where I really ham it up. I light up my smoke, take a nice, long, drag, and close one eye as I exhale the smoke.

“So there’s this big fuckin’ bag of fuckin’ drugs. I’m tellin’ you right now, I sold drugs for fuckin’ years, I never seen a stash this big. And that’s not the only thing that’s down there…”

Alex is all-in by now, leaning forward in his rocking chair, which I think belonged to his grandmother or something at some point. The ash on his cigarette is approaching Syd Barrett levels as he stares at me.

“Layin’ on that bag, right against it, is a loaded nine millimeter pistol. At least, I think it was a fuckin’ nine mill. I don’t know shit about guns. Never had much interest in them. Nothin’ but extra felonies if you ask me. But I remember… I remember it looked like the one the cops carried.”

“Damn…” Alex replies.

“And… Y’know… I’m fuckin’ 12 years old, man. 11 maybe, I don’t fuckin’ know. Old enough to not know what I was looking at, but old enough to know that I wasn’t supposed to see it, y’know what I mean?”

“Well yeah, man, you were just a kid. You barely knew how to human.”

I nod and take another drag. “So… I go… And I tell my mother. I get my fuckin’ Game Boy, and I go and tell my mother. Because I was a fucking kid, man. I didn’t know…”

At this point, the plane I’ve been flying begins to rapidly drop back towards the ground, gathering more and more momentum with each moment. I almost lose it, but I pull back on the throttle just in time. Just like I always do.

“She comes stormin’ over to the fuckin’ chair, and she sees what I found, and her fuckin’ eyes go wider than I ever seen ‘em go before. And then… Fuckin’ all Hell broke loose. Fightin’, yellin’, screamin’, breakin’ furniture… And all I thought… All I could fuckin’ think… Was that it was my fault…”

“It wasn’t, though.”


“It wasn’t your fault.”

Now, I know it wasn’t my fault my Dad was a drug pusher with an even bigger drug habit. But you need to know what it’s like inside my head. Any time, and I mean any fucking time I can give myself a good beating, I’m gonna take it. No matter how little sense it makes.


“You sound very guilty. Why?” Isaac asks.

“Because if I had just kept my fuckin’ mouth shut, and taken my fuckin’ Game Boy, and shut the fuck up, and not told like a little fuckin’ faggot, my Mom and Dad never woulda had that fight.” I reply, my voice quivering.

“But it wasn’t your fault. Help me understand why you think this was all because of you. Your father was a grown man, he made his own decisions, he decided to start selling drugs. He decided to start abusing drugs. You were a child. You had no idea, no concept of what you had seen. You just knew it was wrong. So you did the right thing. You did what had been taught to you, at least I’m assuming…”


“So why bear that cross? Why carry that guilt? You had nothing to do with that, Harry. Your parents never punished you for it, right?”


“Then why put it on yourself? It seems you’re beating yourself up just for the sake of it. I wish you could see yourself objectively. See all the progress you’ve made. But you filter it through this… Sense of self-loathing. I really do hope one day you can step back, outside your own head, and realize what a good job you’ve been doing.”

“Yeah. Welcome to my world…”

“You’re almost two years sober.”


“Yeah. Yeah, I know.” I lie.


“So now, what, you just don’t fuck with meth and dope anymore?” Alex asks me after the awkwardness has marinated long enough.

I nod. “Damn near everything else is still on the table, though.”

“Me and my brother call that South Shore Sober.”


“Yeah. Drinkin’, smokin’, the occasional line of blow, tab of LSD, cap of Molly. Just doin’ the best we can.”

“I like that. South Shore Sober.”



“Y’know what the fucked up part is, though?” I ask Isaac, tears forming in my eyes.


“If I were him? If that were me? Stage four cancer diagnoses, two small kids, a wife I’m gonna leave behind too fuckin’ early to ever make sure she was taken care of, they were taken care of, after I’m gone? I woulda done the same shit. To the tee.”

“I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”

“What I’m fuckin’ trying to tell you, Isaac, is that my Dad was a better man than me. He was stronger than me, tougher than me, been through a hundred times more shit than me. And he was a sniveling fuckin’ junky at the end of the day. Just like me. Why the fuck… Why the fuck couldn’t I be more like my sister? She had the common fuckin’ sense to know that life wasn’t for her. And here I am, runnin’ around like I’m hot shit, but I didn’t even have the fuck integrity he had. The integrity to know what he was sellin’, and advertise it as such. The integrity to stare a man in the face, and be honest with them…”

“You’re not your sister. Or your father. You’re you.”

“Fuckin’ tell me about it…”

“We gotta stop for today, Harry.”

“OK. Thanks.”


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