Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Salvation Diary Thirty Four

"Salvation" artist Amanda Milke

June 3 Monday Day 265

I subbed for Robert this morning. He needed to go to the VA clinic to have his blood sugar checked. I guess they only check blood sugar on Mondays.
I was happy to get up and do it. Otherwise I might have been in danger of wasting the whole of this lovely morning doing something decidedly innocuous, like sleeping. Now I had the opportunity to get some early morning writing accomplished. Imagine my excitement.
Besides, I would be owing Robert a little time as he was relieving me an hour early tomorrow afternoon so I could attend the college orientation class at P.C.C.
I felt fine today. Happy to be alive. I find it hard to believe that I'm 35 years old, because I sure don't feel 35 (decrepit). I feel like I'm about 19 (jubilant and stupid). They say that emotional development ceases after heavy drinking begins. I'm all for that. And it would be typical of my luck be a 19 year old stuck in a 35 year old body... even though that 35 year old body is extremely sleek and slim, and adored by all (hallucination).
Even though I was feeling good and all, about three people came up to me saying I looked sick. Even dead.
Reuben Smith came back this morning. For awhile there it didn't seem like they were going to let him back in before completing a 30 day suspension. But he got into high "kiss ass" mode... and being the Major's pet... they re-admitted him.
I'm glad he's not on the streets, but I'm not sure the Major did him a favor. We shall see.
Reuben hasn't said a word to me. I think he may be miffed.
Robert returned shortly after lunch. I had already changed clothes, so I immediately took off for the park. Another hour of sunshine and classic rock and roll for me, with a little Dostoevsky thrown in for good measure.
I laid down on my bed upon returning and fell into a soft slumber. As luck would again have it, I woke just in time for dinner.
Like yesterday, I read and watched television for the rest of the evening. An obscure Robert DeNiro movie was on, "Jackknife."
After watching a rerun of "Cheers," I vigorously switched to channel 7, to catch "Nightline." Ted Koppel was fucking off somewhere, so Barbara Walters hosted tonight. The topics: how big business had taken over the publishing industry; the large amount of "tell all" garbage books coming out these days, and the emphasis within the industry toward promotion and marketing rather than on editorial quality.
Considering the part literature plays in our society and cultural heritage, this story was a little disconcerting.
The last question Barbara (I'm in love with Barbara) asked was, how do first time authors go about getting their books published?
The CEO of Putnam replied, "Just send it to a literary agent, or a publisher."
Next a literary agent said, "I never read unsolicited manuscripts."
Very disconcerting.
Shirley McLaine had the best advice. "Get a good editor."

June 4 Tuesday Day 266

A very stressful day.
Stress, stress, stress.
It began at lunch. I was sitting with Harold Eversley and Hugh Hogle, munching on some taquitos, and minding my own business, when the new store janitor came in a little late to be served early chow. Harold explained to him (maybe a little to forcefully due to exasperation) that he would not be served until the regular lunch began, in about ten minutes, and he would have to wait in line like everyone else. This guy, who was normally very quiet and subdued, came up to the table we were sitting at and started arguing with Harold. He hadn't liked the way Harold had talked to him. As they got more and more into it, the volume got louder and louder. I tried to break it up to no avail. Finally the guy left the dinning room and things calmed down a bit. The janitor found Ed Reitz and told him he was going to leave the center. Ed said, okay, and the guy went up to his room, presumably to get his possessions. At this time the Cisco truck parked in front with a load of supplies for the kitchen. Harold was walking in with an arm load when the janitor dude came back from upstairs. Harold saw him and stopped, told him he was sorry for what happened, and held out his hand to shake. Right in front of Major Foote, Clarence Orion, Maggie Harbottle, me and about twenty beneficiaries, the guy took a swing at Harold, grazing his forehead. Harold fell back, saying, "Did you see that! Did you see that! I want this guy arrested!" A bunch of the residents moved in to separate the two. Harold went into the kitchen, the janitor went outside, I went downstairs with the man from Water and Power to read the meter, and Robert Vasquez came down to eat lunch.
As I returned to the desk, the janitor came back in, looked at me and told me it was my fault too, that I had let it happen, and began to cus me out. I told him in a calm, clear, and loud voice, that he had the whole thing all wrong, and the best thing for him to do was to just leave. That of course infuriated him to no end, and it was at this juncture that he threatened me with bodily harm. This guy was pretty big, and awfully mad, but I was not particularly intimidated (not with the desk between us), which further infuriated him. He made a move as to come behind the desk and reduce me to a red and pulpy mass, at which time (I'm very happy to report) about 5 guys who had been sitting in the lobby taking this all in, moved in on him. The janitor thought better of beating me up, but continued to throw verbal abuse in my direction.
Mr Vasquez sat calmly in the dinning room, eating his taquitos, taking his time, at peace with himself and the world.
By this time I told Rockoff to call the police. I figured they were the only ones who could end this once and for all.
The janitor went back across the street to talk to Ed again. The police came and talked to the janitor. They made it clear to him that he was not to return to the residence.
Mr. Vasquez finished his meal and came to relieve me. "What's up?" he asked.
I waited for my counselor, Richard, to finish with his last client of the day so he could give me a ride to P.C.C. I did not feel like meeting this janitor person at any secluded bus stop. Not if I could easily avoid it.
I went to the college bookstore a purchased a schedule of the Fall classes. Then went to the counseling office to find out my score on the English placement exam I had taken a few weeks ago. It was 70. I guess that means (who can ever know for sure?) that I got 70 out of the 82 or 88 questions right (I can't remember which). Anyway, I was told that the score was high enough to allow me to enroll directly into English 101, college level English. A degree requirement.
I met an acquaintance of mine at the orientation class. A heavy set guy, by the name of John. We went through the Vista Recovery Center's program together, an outpatient clinic, more than a year and a half ago. He had over two years sobriety. He worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here in Pasadena, but lived in the San Fernando Valley.
It was good to see him, although slightly awkward.
We couldn't come up with many things to say to each other.
The two of us spent about 40 minutes being orientated along with 60 other would be students. We parted afterwards, wishing each other well.
I returned to the counseling building and made an appointment so be counseled on June 27th at noon thirty. I made it back to the residence in time for dinner.
Roger Collins accosted me as I was leaving the dinning room. He told me Robert had relieved him of his duties at the canteen. He wanted to bitch to me about it, but I was in no mood to listen to his crap, and just walked away.
I went to the lobby and wrote all of this down. I'm writing right now in fact. Jill is in the counseling room, looking beautiful as always. I have no time for her tonight though. In a few minutes I'm going to get my hair cut by Jeff Purcell. This no doubt will add to my overall stress level. Maybe to the max.
After that I plan on going to my room to relax. I'll probably be successful at it. I don't usually have trouble relaxing. I'll probably read or something. Watch a little TV.
Tomorrow I'll find out what the rest of my life is going to be like. Or at least one aspect of it.
Oh, the drama.

June 5th Wednesday Day 267

The day began just like any other, although I woke to classic rock and roll from my new alarm clock radio, rather than the television. The time was 5:03. I got out of bed promptly at 5:40. At the desk by 6:00.
Mr. Vasquez was up and about this morning, making a run to Smart and Final. He would normally do this on Friday, but we were expecting a visit from an unknown number of cadets from Territorial Headquarters tomorrow, some sort of seminar on how an A.R.C. operates, and we wished to make sure there were plenty of snacks on hand. Salvation Army cadets are known for their snacking vagaries.
And plumpishness. Robert made an announcement at devotions before he left. Today, finally, after a year's delay, the new towel policy would be put into effect. Robert was anticipating Colonel Allen accompanying the cadets, and today was ripe for implementing the Colonel's edict. My day went smoothly. Quite a contrast from yesterday. I spent most of it in the sample room, sampling. I tried not to think too much about what the afternoon had in store for me.
I talked to my counselor, Richard, probably for the last time. He feels it is time for him to find gainful employment, and will cease to be a volunteer counselor here. He had hinted, well, he down right asked Ed Reitz for a job as a counselor, but you know how that goes. Why would the Salvation Army hire somebody, and feel obligated to pay them actual money, when they can always find someone to do the same job for free? The only reason the Army's considering hiring me is that they're getting nervous with Mr. Vasquez getting so close to retirement, and they can't find someone dumb enough to do this job for nothing.
Not even me.
In our session Richard outlined his whole philosophy regarding chemical dependency counseling and recovery, which is very higher power orientated. He feels that his technique "really works," and should be taught in counseling schools. He may be right, who knows. I tend to believe that his approach, along with almost every other therapeutic tactic I've come across concerning addiction, will only work with some individuals... some of the time. Having a power greater than yourself working for you is fine. One of course, first needs to believe in a higher power, that the higher power can change your life for the better, and then be willing to let it.
Before all of that we need to want to get better. Really want it.
Richard told me that the reason he was voicing his beliefs on this last day was so they would not be forgotten incase he suddenly passed away from old age, or something. I told him he should write a book.
"When my higher power lets me know that's what I should do, then I'll do it."
"Maybe," I told him, "I'm unknowingly acting as the agent for your higher power, and through me, it's letting you know what you should do."
He smiled, and said, "Yes, you could be right. Maybe I should put it on paper."
I couldn't help but noticing the clock this afternoon. The time was approaching when I would leave for the Jackie Robinson Health Center to receive the results of my H.I.V. test. To say that I was a little bit apprehensive about going there would be an extreme understatement. I tried not to think too much about it. I would see what they had to say and take it from there.
I have a fair idea of what I'll do if I'm not infected. Continue here at the center, start school, meet new people, get married, raise a family, have a life, stuff like that. If I am infected then it's up for grabs.
At 2:15 I left the residence and walked across Fair Oaks Blvd., to the south west corner of the park, where the north bound bus stop lies. I brought the Dostoevsky book with me in case I felt like reading, but I would find I didn't feel like it. I didn't feel like doing much of anything, but just sat there at the stop watching the cars drive by. There must have been an antique car show around someplace because five or six 1940s style cars drove by where I was waiting. I could see the occupants, all smiling, and dressed in period garb.
It was sunny. I took my sunglasses off and let the warmth hit my face.
At one point, I admit, I entertained the idea of not going. Of leaving the bus stop and returning to the residence. Somehow, not being sure, not knowing if I was infected or not, seemed a whole lot better than the possibility of knowing for certain that I had the disease. One moment I still might have the future, in another, I won't. A lot of choices would end the moment someone at the health center said the word, "positive," looking at me not really knowing what more to say. I dreaded that moment. I pictured it over and over again. (I could go on and on transposing what I wrote back then, but as I edit this I'm realizing what a wienie I was, so I'll stop)
The 483 approached and forced me to solidify my resolve. I attempted to empty my mind of all thoughts and concerns. I tried to sit back and enjoy the experience of the bus ride, the experience of the people sitting around me, the changing scenery as the bus moved along it's route.
There were only two young women in the waiting room when I came in. This is the only time of the week when H.I.V. results are given, so we all knew what we were there for. They didn't seem concerned. I didn't either.
I gave the receptionist my patient ID number, then sat down slightly away from the others.
While watching "Nightline," last night I learned that on this day, ten years ago, the first known cases of AIDs were reported, the first Federal report documenting five homosexual males with a rare form of pneumonia. How bizarre that I should be here on this infamous anniversary, for this purpose.
Almost immediately the two young ladies were called into an inner office, one after another. A heavyset black lady, late 40s probably, in a floral print dress, looked at me from the other side of the reception desk. She gazed down at the piece of paper she was holding, and called my number. I got up and went through a door into the clinic's interior. The heavyset lady led me to a small, sparsely furnished office, and asked me to sit down. I closed the door behind me.

It's funny how fast things change.
By 3:15 I was standing outside the health center, intensely angry and afraid. In shock really, I had no clear idea on how to proceed from where I was at. The day had turned overcast as if to fit my mood. I could discern no sharp distinctions, no shadows, just a steady mottled gray haze prevailed, fuzzy, and soft like a pillow. I was positive that if I were to yell and scream, as it suddenly occurred to me to do, only a muffled cry would issue, baffled within the thick atmosphere around me. It was cold now too. I didn't remember it being this cool before I had got here, and dreaded the feeling it brought to my skin, like throwing a pail of cold water on my face. I was now fully aware of what was going on around me, which was the last thing I wanted at the moment.
I felt the need to move so I began walking, and if I was walking I might as well head south on Fair Oaks, back in the direction from which I had come, back towards the residence. I didn't consider that if I continued walking it would be a very long walk, but I did vaguely think about still being on duty, that I had a goodly part of my shift to finish. I would have all day tomorrow to work as well. And I remembered that the cadets would be there tomorrow, and Colonel Allen, and Major and Mrs. Johnson. I thought about the problems and hassles their presence would create, that would need to be dealt with and overcome.
I consciously put that out of my mind. I had other issues to keep myself occupied.
Like putting one foot in front of the other. While I was doing that I had time to consider other things, my life in particular. I kept going over certain scenes from the past, as if they were happening to me now. I felt good to fantasize being able to act differently, change results, have an alternative to the way everything had ended up. But those thoughts inevitably brought me back to the present, and to my... situation, like a rubber band that had reached the end of its elasticity, exploding back mercilessly upon its owner. I thought about what I was going to do now that there were no more alternatives, no more fantasies, no more God damn hope to draw strength from. No more safely putting off. No more nothing.
There was a house I passed to the left of me as I continued south. There were three children playing in the front yard. The yard had a waist high chain link fence around it to enclose its space. One of the children, a little girl, smiled at me as I passed.
I soon found myself on Colorado Blvd. Colorado and Fair Oaks being about the busiest intersection in Pasadena, there were many people there, many cars, many sounds. Not wishing to return to the routine of the residence just yet I walked into a place called The Thirty Fiver. A bar. I knew it was a bar before I walked in. I was aware of that.
It was rather dark inside the bar. I liked that. After a young man checked my ID, I sat at the counter and lit a cigarette. There were a few pretty girls present who turned their heads as I looked their way. A couple of guys playing pool on the establishments only table. A black guy was chatting up a slightly aged and wasted looking blonde, three stools down from me. She looked as if she would rather be somewhere else. She was holding a red rose in one hand, and a glass of beer in the other. She looked numb, and I could relate to that.
To own my place at the bar I ordered a shot of tequila and a glass of grapefruit juice. I didn't intend to drink the tequila, but it felt very familiar asking the bartender for it. The tiny glass just sat there in front of me, looking very innocent. Little ripples would appear on the surface of the liquid every time the loud rap music hit on a particularly stringent beat. I knew I couldn't drink it, that it would ruin me if I did. I tried to remember the many, many, important reasons why that drink wouldn't be good for me, but they didn't come into focus, did not fully materialize in my mind. I stopped trying to think of them for the time being, and resumed looking at the glass, finally taking a sip from the grapefruit juice.
A couple of excited yells came from the direction of the pool table. I looked over and saw a man and a woman congratulating the player making the impossible shot. The girl glanced at me and smiled. I smiled back and turned away.
I downed the contents of the shot glass in one gulp, and chased it down with half of what remained of the juice. It burned good, making my eyes water. I felt it in my gut, sizzling. I took a deep breath and could smell the bitter fumes coming from my own mouth.
And there it was. Funny how quickly things can change. One moment I had 267 full days without a sniff of booze, the next moment I had nothing, zip, nadda. All that time, all of those dreams wiped out with one swallow.
No one around me noticed the fantastic change that had just occurred. Everyone went on as if nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
Then something funny did happen. All of those real good reasons why I shouldn't have taken that drink popped crystal clear back into my mind.
And I noticed that I still had all of the problems that I had when I walked into this place. In fact, they'd just gotten a lot worse. Say goodbye to my new job. Say goodbye to the residence. I might as well not go back there as they'll surely know I've been drinking. If they couldn't smell it they could tell by the way I looked. I wouldn't be able to face them. Say goodbye to my new life.
Another trip to the Park.
And that's when I started feeling real bad.
And it came to me that another drink would help to deal with those real feelings, wouldn't it? Make me forget about how real bad I had just been, and about how I felt. That's why I had taken the first drink, to help make me feel better. Might as well have another one. The damage had been done. No point holding off now. No point at all.
And so I ordered and drank another glass of tequila. Now I had a water glass with some grapefruit juice and no tequila. So I bought a third.
Then another one.
And one after that.
And soon, quite soon, I didn't feel so bad anymore. Pretty soon I didn't feel anything anymore.
And that's how relapse works.
And then I woke up.

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