My friend Jack once told me, “Kid, the best revenge is good living.”
It was my last day in treatment and I followed through with the usual handshakes, farewell hugs, and the well-wishes that came from the other patients.
The morning flew by and my bags were already packed, but there was something stagnant about that time around me.
I was aware of myself and aware of what was to come. There was a red mark in the crease of my neck beneath my jawbone, which was a reminder of what I had done to myself.
Breakfast was finished and the rest of the patients were on their way to their morning schedules. I said my official goodbyes to my primary counselor and I thanked the rest of my group counselors.
They smiled and wished me well. They shook my hand and each said the same thing in their own way.
“It works of you work it,” they told me.
“You have the tools and you know what to do. Now all you have to do is do it.”
The treatment facility was once an old hotel. The lobby was locked in a time warp with the same paintings and decorations from the late 60’s and early 70’s. The walls were paneled in wood and the furniture was fitting of a an old mountain resort.
The patient rooms were the old guest rooms and some were smaller than others. The larger ones were upstairs near the main entrance. These were once considered to be the expensive suites and they were known as Park Avenue amongst the patients..
(That’s where I stayed.)
The smaller rooms stretched down a long corridor. They were the less expensive rooms from the facility’s hotel days, and they were known as Bedford Stuyvesant, or, “Bed Stuy,” to those that understood the difference.
There was a cafeteria, which only served food during breakfast, lunch, and dinnertime. But there was a commissary, and the patients were allowed to carry cash.
The commissary was also frozen in a time warp. So were the decorations on its walls, and the drapes over the windows, which overlooked the courtyard that was filled with sobering junkies, lounging on folding chairs, and sharing war stories about the places they’ve seen.
The small store had snacks as well as greeting cards, pens, pads of paper, and laundry soap. They sold cigarettes as well, but the prices were unfair, and often, the patients (or inmates depending on opinion) would complain to a grouchy old woman behind the cash register with long white hair that was tied-up in a bun.
She was pale-skinned and slightly overweight with puffy, slit-like eyes, and her head was oddly shaped. She was rarely kind and she seldom spoke to me, with the only exception being my last day.
“I hope I never have to see you here again,” she said.
And she smiled. I never saw her smile before.
“You be good to yourself,” she told me. “And please, don’t ever do anything like that again.”
The old woman extended her arms. Her pointed sausage-like fingers with yellowish fingernails reached around my back. Her bluish eyes watered, and her pale, white skin was soft like a grandmother’s. She hugged me with all of her warmth and said, “Now go on and get out of here before people start to think I’m a nice person.”
I was waiting for my final discharge meeting with my head counselor and my mother. I waited in the main lobby near the doors to the cafeteria, and inside, I overheard a conversation between some of the other patients. They were laughing and taking bets on which discharged patient would be the first to fail.
I sat quietly and listened. I listened to them laugh and call out names. The group of patients said things like, “I give him a month,” or, “I give him a week before he falls on his face.”
But when my name came up, they all laughed hardest.
I did not get, “a week,” or, “A month.”
They gave me, “One day.”
They said it would only take me one day to fall on my face.
In the end, I was inspired to prove them wrong. If for no other reason, I remained sober because “They” said I “Couldn’t do it.”
They said I would never make it and that I would be dead in a week, or in prison, or locked in the crazy wing on flight deck.
Several years later, I saw one of those patients out in the real world. Only, he did not recognize me. Then again, his eyes were mostly closed, and he was on the downward swivel of a methadone nod at the corner of 35th and 8th.
I saw another patient around that same time near the Church on 31st St.
He remembered me.
He said, “You were that kid that tried to hang himself, right?”
His facial expression mixed with a smile that comes when seeing an old familiar face, but curious because the name would not come to mind.
I answered, “You were the guy that was laughing about how I was going to fall on my face, right?”
“I wasn’t the only one,” he told me.
“Nobody thought you were going to make it passed the driveway.”
“Well, I did.”
“Hell yeah, you did.”
I have made several mistakes and I have chosen poorly on numerous occasions
. . . but I never relapsed.
My friend Jack told me, “The best revenge is good living.”
This does not mean I live in spite of other people.
This means I live regardless of them