Tin Roofs

Fatigue steals over me, it’s cold fingers icing up my spine and into the back of my neck, clouding my vision temporarily. I concentrate on breathing for a moment, and lean into the moment. In through my nose, out through my mouth, just watching the colors inside my head project onto the canvas of the room for a moment. The crushing sound of women talking in an enclosed space is suddenly a roar and I am hyper aware of my own deafness in that moment as snaps of conversation, given voice inside my own imagination, burst over my consciousness. The endless chore of finding conversation through a combination of body language, mouth movements and pieces of sounds suddenly becomes too much. I see my wife in a corner, alone with three others, chatting, her spine and carriage the image of confidence. I feel rather than hear or see the sudden leaning in of the lonely wealth, the overly dressed, alienated seekers of attention of any kind and I beat a hasty retreat for the door.

The heat is sudden and welcoming. The closeness of the room was stifling, but the early glimpse of the summer to come is soft on the sidewalk. The climate of the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay has a tendency to narrow seasons, pull them closely in to one another as winter tumbles through spring and into summer with an audible clap. The bank clock tells me that it is 86 degrees in the sun and I turn my face towards it, cresting the western edge of the buildings for the last moments of the day. I spot a white haired man I recognize from earlier seated at a near table and he nods a half-hearted salutation.  I reluctantly wander my way in his direction. I can still feel the presence of eyes on my back, the attention-seeking eyes, evaluating, wondering, seeking something, anything.

I ask the well-dressed man if I may join him. He waves his left hand impatiently at the empty chair, suddenly brusque, the motion of a man accustomed to giving orders, but without the gumption to see them through. An empty gesture. A meaningless greeting. I feel my weariness once more, but welcome the diversion and the opportunity to feel the sunshine on my face before the rain moves in off the coast once more. I think of Mexico, and the mountains of my youth, of sitting on truck tailgates and simply waiting for another to speak, not acknowledging the passage of time, adhering to another standard of social conduct, one born of necessity, of hardship, or needing to know if the other could be trusted, and if so, how much and with what.

He speaks a greeting, and I follow suit. Our conversation is both guarded and open as we talk as men, ranging quickly through the mundane, the weather, avoiding politics, a quick diversion into the economy, both local and national, into travel. He speaks of planes and trains and villas and golf courses, of places where nature and native alike is forced to comply with the western white standard, of maids dressed in uniforms, of women passed over and semi-forgotten, like whiskey beading the curvature of a leaded tumbler. I think of sand and dirt and waves and places gone and remembered and sleeping under a vast canopy of stars, so many that it was an inverse carpet of winking worlds, places unreachable and unknowable and secure in their secrets from the scourge of humanity.

The conversation flows around me as I realize that he is content to just talk, to spill words from himself in my general direction, secure in their ability to impress the younger, less wealthy man. I am content to just not listen, nod my head in the right places and allow my thoughts to wander where they may. I am deep in the Baja of Mexico when his wife approaches, a thin, tight-lipped and unhappy former beauty, a woman who has aged and well, but is still bitter of the implications, of the loss of status in a world dominated by beauty and youth. I bring up an extra chair and she comments on my manner of dress, which is deliberately casual, a muse, if you will. Costumes amuse me, and I don them, as we all do, in response to variations in mood and deference to the requirements of the event.

Mexico comes round once more in our conversation, as does my boyhood home. I stiffen inwardly at the attempt to place my accent, which he does. There are some things that you choose not to shed, and my manner of speech is one of those things I have clung to. His accuracy in placing where I am from is uncannily accurate and I resent the intrusion. I realize that my mask, the outward self, the visible part of me, is slipping a bit and I pull it back into place.

I realize that she is now speaking of the poor indigent people of Kentucky, with whom she has some familiarity as her family once boarded horses at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Derby, which is coming around soon once again. I resent her stereotype, then allow it to slide over me, wondering what it must be like to be black in our society, where stereotypes are often the only common ground between race and socio-economic differences. She branches out, slightly more eloquent, describing the conditions in which people lived, in such squalor, what with their laundry hanging outside to dry, as they apparently could not afford dryers for their clothes in the trailer parks in which they lived. A general lack of education must also be ascribed to such individuals, as no one, of course, with any semblance of humanity would tarry long in such a place, regardless of their background.

My attention is now rapt on the skyline, where the sun has receded into the western sky. The roar of conversation has dulled behind me, and I await a break in conversation, for some queue from which to escape this madness. I think of my own past, nights lying sleepless beneath the tin roof of the tacked together trailer in which the early years of my childhood were passed, as we struggled to put together the monies required to build a more substantial home. Misinterpreting my silence for accession, she continues her diatribe on the poverty of other places, of Belize, where dogs are allowed to just wander in the streets and where children run unsupervised in play.

I remember my own great dog, a mongrel mix of some indeterminate breed, lying quietly in the dust of the dirt road on which we lived in the early morning sun while my brothers, cousins, and various neighboring children played our variations of games that had been around since the beginning of our race upon this earth. Tag, power struggles, small fistfights, and other amusements were enjoyed and participated in, with no parental oversight. We were gods of our own small kingdoms, secure in our aloneness, our only guardian the great brave canine who lay with ever watchful eyes upon his small, unappreciative wards. We were unaware of how some outsider, passing through, watching our world through the tinted glass of an overpriced automobile, might have considered us. Poor. Indigent. Pitiable.

I suddenly resent the two of them. Their derision and judgement, so callously delivered to one from the very tribe they berate, is palpable to me. I sit with them, yet apart. The separation between the child in the street and the billionaire in the car is so small, a knife edge could not slide between them, yet, the chasm can be a physical barrier, impossible to cross.

The door opens, and a group of women exit the gala, their voices trilling in my direction, slightly intoxicated by the free wine. I feel alone, isolated, a man on a tower, behind walls of gauze and stone. I am glad for my time in the dirt.

To Beat the Devil

I woke up for what must have been the eighth time, relieved to see it was finally 5:45. I could hear the wind picking up, but there was a glimmer of star shine visible through the window. A good omen, I hoped. My running clothes were where I had left them on the kitchen table. I slid as silently as I could through the house, trying not to wake my three-year-old son or his Mom. I ate a banana, checked my phone for the temperature, and pulled on my clothes. I’m superstitious about my socks. These things are ancient, the elastic barely there. I hand wash them now, knowing that they should be thrown out, what with my little toe, broken and healed so many times that it barely resembles a toe at all, hanging out of the once-white fabric. I lace up my shoes, broken in properly for once, wiggling my heel back into the shoe, a remnant movement, long since immortalized in my muscle memory from my brief track career as a walk on in college. I drink three pints of water, counting them. I pick up my keys, check to make sure my chip is laced into the shoes once more, like it could have gone anywhere, consciously kiss the stones on my necklace, and slide into the dark morning.

I don’t know where I am. My brain shrieks at me in fury, my heart slamming into my ribs. My thoughts jumble around one another, tangle into an undecipherable mess and then break, slumping into my brain like spaghetti into a bowl. My body is shrieking along with my brain now, my hands shaking uncontrollably. Cold sweat rolls down the side of my face and the bedclothes twisted around me are drenched. All I can think of is that I am dying. Without a doubt. I’m dying, and I have no idea where I am. It’s a hospitable of sorts, that much I can see. My eyelids do little to block out the residual light streaming in through the barred window from the streetlight outside. Shadows dance across the wall behind me and a crucifix, complete with mostly-naked Savior, fixes it’s unblinking, judgmental gaze on my pain.

The truck starts. I almost wish it wouldn’t for a moment. I’m nervous, my stomach is in knots and I feel the old familiar drum of increased blood pressure thrum against my forehead, where the skin feels suddenly tight and thin. I clear my head as best I can, and swing out onto the deserted road just as first light brightens the eastern sky. My mood elevates, and I suddenly grin at myself, the old familiar half-smile that always springs to my weathered face when I greet the sun in the morning. It’s a fine time, early morning. There’s always that feeling of things to do, places to go, adventures to be had. It all stretches out in front of you in the early morning. The anxiety over a half marathon suddenly slips away, replaced by a heightened sense of excitement about the day to come.

A sound from the other side of the room alerts me to the presence of another. A snort, sort of a muffled cough, then snoring. I realize I’m not alone and my howling brain, anxious for some diversion, fixates on identifying my sleeping roommate. I don’t know him. I feel relieved for some reason, knowing perhaps that I won’t be beholden to small talk when he wakes. I wish I could sleep again, and I trace the I.V. in my hand back to the bag by the bed. I try to read the contents held within the plastic, but my eyesight seems sorely unsuited for the task at hand. I try to lift one hand and discover my restraints. Canvas straps are secured around my torso and hands, which are trembling visibly. My legs are likewise bound to the bed, and by the looks of the remnants of my clothing, it appears I was not restrained willingly. I dizzily remember signing a waiver, my fingers willful and stubborn against my brains’ instruction to print legibly. I remember my name then, suddenly, where I am and why I am here. “Nolan” I whisper to myself. I have a son. His name is Nolan.

I sit with my back to the block YMCA building, watching, judging my competition. I know better than to think I will do anything but run this race, but a childhood spent in motocross, football, boxing, track and testing myself against others has molded me into the person I am today. In sobriety, I have rediscovered the relentless urge to push myself, to benchmark my performance. I notice that the runners are hard, lean, with restless eyes. There isn’t much conversation. Two women banter loudly and “Eye of the Tiger” beats mindlessly over the loudspeakers, too loud for this early hour. I fall back into myself, allowing my mind and body to just be still. I remember too little of the past decade. What memories I do carry are unpleasant at times, loud drumming of mistakes and fallacies.

The doctors have cautiously met with me. I realized by day two in this final stay in rehab that I was one of those for whom the caregivers had no hope. The meetings were perfunctory, quick. I could tell they were only going through the motions. They mistook my silence for sullenness, my lack of participation for resentment. I was trying with all my might to hold the center, to keep my core intact while the outer edges dissipated into the mist. It took all of me to hold that little bit of me, that tiny place that was still recognizable to me, intact. I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not stop shaking. I could not manage more than a sip of water. I could not remember where I was, or my home phone number. My wife came to visit, without Nolan. She was white and furious, cold and distant. I tried to hold her hand and she ripped it away. I could not understand why she was so angry with me. I tried to remember what I had done to make her hate me so, and I could not. She left, and I returned to my room, free of the restraints, but a prisoner nonetheless. The iron grip of addiction was not relinquishing its hold on my body and brain. By the end of day two, I am firmly in the grips of Delirium Tremens.

The gun sounds, and we all start running. There are so few of us on this cold, windy, rainy morning that there is no particular order to our grouping. The fastest runners line up first, and rapidly draw away from the main body of the pack. This is my first half marathon, so I’m a bit unsure of myself. I’m amused for the first three miles by the press of bodies, passing people and listening to conversations around me. The runners, mostly silent pre-race, have bunched into conversational packs, talking amongst themselves, clearly having a good time despite the weather. I fall into a semi-comfortable pace somewhere around the middle, neither passing or being passed by anyone. The miles start to fall away. The wind and rain tears my eyes, and I find myself running at times with them closed, blinking away the water. I allow my mind to fall away once more, free to roam about, only nudging it in pleasant directions. Or at least I try to. Unbidden, a scene from one of those dark corners, unrehearsed and unwelcome, springs to the forefront.

I’m screaming, but the sound is distant, like the caterwauling of a lost and frenzied puma, calling out to its mate over the dregs or what was once it’s natural habitat, now destroyed by mountain top mining. The streams run red with acid mine drainage, the sandstone rocks rusty and brown in the murky water. I’m not even for sure it is me. The only thing I know for certain is that I must get out. I must escape from this terrible place, this iron prison of sand and death. My tortured brain no longer obeys my feeble attempts to place my sanity in the center, and once again the center begins to pull apart. I watch the whirlwind of dust descend behind my closed eyelids, and I swear on a thousand alien suns that I will not go into the darkness, that I will not leave my family, that I will not desert my son, still so tiny, so helpless, so dependent on his mother and so abandoned by me. An image of him, just born, still misshapen from the womb and so full of life, slides fleetingly by and I grab it and hold to it, firmly grasp it in my minds two hands, willing myself away from the abyss, where insanity and worse lurk, waiting for me, hungry with their need shame and failure and tortured souls like mine.

I snap back to reality, and I find myself crying as I run. Miles eight and nine have passed, and my legs are screaming with the pace I have subconsciously set. I am punishing myself now. I welcome the pain in my broken rib, the throbbing in my reconstructed ankle, the shock of my functionless liver dumping rapidly metabolizing adrenaline and damaged cells and metabolic waste straight into my brain stem. I fight through a moment of oblivion, when my brain re-routes memories and conscious thought into a new pattern, recognizable again in only a few seconds. Those seconds seem an eternity as I temporarily forget everything, and I grimly panic, then remember! My mother’s voice, distant on the phone a few weeks before: “I know why you run. I have seen it in my dreams. You run to beat the devil.” She is so right. Now, that is what I do. I am no longer running for me, or for enjoyment, or to beat anyone else. I am running for sorrow, for the pain my addiction has caused, for the family I let down, for the friends I disappointed, for the lost decade, ten entire years that I spent in the grips of alcoholism. More than anything, I am running for my son. I choke back tears, and channel the rage and fury and anger and pain and sorrow into the rest of me and I run like hell itself is after me.

I awake in a pool of water on the floor of my cell. My roommate is snoring, loudly enough to cause me some concern. I am still shaking, my shoulder throbbing from contact with the cold cement floor. I try to strip off the wet clothing, but I am too weak to attempt it. My hands shake uncontrollably, and my brain does not seem to function, but I know who I am. I climb back into bed and wait for morning. The doctors give me their prognosis: Certain death. Thirty to ninety days. If I stop drinking. I can tell from their tone of voice that they have no hope that I will do such a thing. From somewhere deep within, I find the strength to grin at them. “Don’t bet against me, doc.” He looks at me for a long moment. “Maybe so….I’ve seen stranger things.”

I see my son’s blonde head as I round the last turn into the grassy area by the YMCA. Another race is starting, so I know I’ve beaten my goal of a two-hour half marathon. I find out at the finish line that I did even better than I expected. My family is there, my wife grinning at me like I won the thing. I grab my son and pick him up, sweaty, cold and soaked to the bone. “I don’t even care,” I think, “if I won the thing or not. It’s enough to finish. To know that I ran every step.”

I think of my ancestors as I leave the rehabilitation center for the fight of my life. For my life. I think of the Native Americans, the Cherokee and Cree; and the Scottish Immigrants, all of whom had fought for their freedom and existence on this land. I wait for my wife to pull the car around. The cold rain falls and I realize with a jolt that it is nearly fall. I dare hope for a moment that it is not my last.

I’m winded and I enjoy the quiet of the house, the dark coffee, my son’s close company. It is nearly three years since that last fateful day in rehab and I am still alive. I attribute a great deal of that to running. It’s not just the physical act and mental benefits of the exercise. It’s the mentality that goes with it. I’m not just living. Not anymore.

I’m beating the devil.

The Old Chef

The old chef made his way through the soft snowflakes. The night was dark, yet still dimly lit by the suns afterglow on the first sliver of a waning moon. The only other illumination was from the candle and firelight flickering on the windows of the tavern to his right, dancing their day’s last dance in the fading aurora of a day past, a twilight gone and night approaching.

Snow was piled high in drifts to his left along the roughhewn sidewalk, all but lost in the winters repeatedly clearing of the pedestrian surface. Only a few weeks ago it had been wide and brightly lit and passable even in the dead of night, as the late night merrymakers finished the last of their drinks, ushering in a new rise with puffed cheeks and rosy noses. The women had been clad in skin tight leggings and furry boots, the fabric of the pants pulled tight to give what they hoped was the best possible image in the fuzzy, uncertain light.

The old man enjoyed the look, and the embrace of the young girls as they squealed and greeted him, one and all, with a hug and a kiss. Always the opportunist, he relished the chance to pat their behinds, smell their shampoo and marvel at how beautiful youth had become. His days of romantic liaisons with the young, desirable and sexy were now long behind him, but that did not mean he could not dream. He could reminisce of the days of his youth, before Father Time began his unavoidable pull. Men such as he felt age piling against their door differently than some and more quickly than most. Years spent in backbreaking toil, substance abuse of all kinds and the lifestyle of a famous, if not broke, rock star aged a fellow.

The sidewalk was not quite visible this far from his cottage, but he knew the path as he once was mesmerized by the dimples over a lovers ass. This little path was not as attractive as the previous recipient of his attention, but it deserved a little observation, even so. His shoulder throbbed, a constant reminder of a night not that long ago when he had trusted his balance on ice a little too much. He had fallen then, and broken three bones, as his calcium deficient skeletal system attempted to absorb the blow.

His dog ranged a bit ahead of him into the lot, where snow had been pushed away to provide parking for the fine automobiles that the financially astute would motor through the weather on their way to the place of fine dining. Their youthful frames were comfortable and fabulous in the heated leather seats, skinny jeans and scarves, all carefully askew. Hair mussed and iPhones plastered against their heads in perfect disregard for the cancer that it may cause, they were the new masters now.

In his day, a Chef, although revered in his own kitchen, was an outcast. A fringe character, sullied upon their chosen career more by chance and skill than by intention. More often than not, they were unspoken repositories of a past that took many shots of alcohol to pry out. Sometimes, they were criminals, unfairly cast upon by the system for crimes real or imagined. They were often victim of petty charges which, through negligence, took root and grew under the social framework. Another cook may be a recovering addict, paying the cost of his or her narrow escape from certain death in the comradery and unspoken rules of the kitchen.

A true Chef rose to the top of these miscreants, hard workers and talented all, by simply becoming the best. It was not enough to attend one of the many fine culinary institutes, although he had. Then, before the days of celebrity chefs and twitter and the ever-growing success of television reality shows where competitors, for real or not, cooked for the entertainment of the masses, there were no pretenders.

He had started cooking in a professional kitchen when he was twelve years old. An age when most adolescent males in the United States today are thinking of things like class, school, phones and girls. He had thought of girls, of course. A smile played across his face, followed by the drag of a match as he lit his pipe.

Puffing contentedly, he meandered along behind his dog, stopping when she did, pausing once to clean the remnants of her dinner out of the snow and place them carefully, still warm, into a protective plastic bag. He thought of the sunsets over the Aegean Sea, as the light, so different then, full of hope and dreams and the soft kisses of a beautiful young Italian girl, bursting with romance and so very in love with the young dreamer with the scars and aspirations for grandeur.

The scars had faded with time and travel, put there by his boss, an angry potslinger with a penchant for flame and razor blades, who had sadistically branded most of his young apprentices as they worked in his kitchens. The young men were blood relatives more often than not, inexorably tied to the tradition of serving under a master craftsman in order to learn a skill. Under this madman, Chef had transformed his fiery temper and tenacity into something hard and brutal, steel under the skin of a normal man. He had learned to ignore pain, hardship and the taunts of his fellow comrades as the only white boy in the arena. Perhaps more importantly, he learned flair and showmanship and demonstrated an instinctive command of the senses intuitively, without thought.

He left on a cruise ship, bound for other destinations, other ports of which he had dreamed, as any young man will fantasize of, no matter their current location. He left the young girl sleeping in her bed in the humble abode they shared, years before the tourist hordes descended on the Amalfi Coast in their tour buses, disembarking to waddle from the safety of the air conditioned seats under the watchful and bored eyes of their captors, who loudly informed them that “This is where the locals eat!”

He went away, traveled the world, never settling down as so many chefs are still inclined to do, wandering in the search of something else, something better to taste and learn and enjoy. Another girl or three, aging as he did in the graceless but seemingly infinite space of life.

He awoke one day to find it all changed. In his twilight years, he had been dethroned, removed from command. As all old generals are forced one day to serve dissident, disenchanted witness to the new champions of the kitchen. Tattooed and manscaped, they were a far cry from the cooks of his youth. They rarely, if ever, had endured the hardships of years of toil. Sporting six-pack abdominals, groomed hair and hip beards, they were ever conscience of their image. To them, their visage was everything, their iPhones a constant presence, their attention spans attuned to the twelve second sound bite. They knew nothing of true hardship, of poverty or desperation.

Frankly, he found them and their relentless posturing annoying at best. But he had long learned his place. Yet, like an old prizefighter, staggering and weak, he still felt he had one good fight in him, one more monstrous kitchen moment, fighting for the glory of the line and the admiration of the female wait staff.

He watched the driving snow and turned around to his lonely cabin, where his brandy and fire waited patiently. He could wait. He could dream.

He could remember. His dog followed him as she always did, the faithful companion that he had always dreamed of. Along with the sweet, salty scent of the girl by the sea.

In the Weeds: Spring 2012 (3)

Ron_001

I collapse into the seat of my truck, trying not to vomit. One spell was enough. Only a few weeks before, while in Southwest Washington, D.C. I had tried very hard to ignore a Hispanic guy of indeterminate age who was vomiting helplessly into the street, propped up only by one hand on a parked car. Snot ran from his nose, mixing with the green bile he was spewing into the beautiful morning. Tears dripped off his chin as his eyes ran uncontrollably. At that point in my life I rarely ventured into the city, doing so only as a last resort to construction sites or when my girlfriend finally lost all patience with me and made me go. Like most people in deep avoidance, I did not frequent places whose occupants were a reminder of where I was headed.

Here I was now, in a college town that I had dearly loved, lying across the seats in the front of my Suburban, breathing from the bottom of my stomach in long, still breaths, praying that I wouldn’t begin to vomit again. My clothes still reeked of marijuana, lemon shots, peppermint schnapps and whiskey. I also had dim memories of eating Chinese Food somewhere after the bar had closed. Which added to the nausea building unsteadily in my tortured stomach. A glance in the mirror confirmed that I had lipstick on my face, bright red, and on my pants, bright blue. Who the hell was wearing blue lipstick?

As soon as I could, I tumbled into the cargo area of the Suburban. During my travels I had outfitted it with a twin mattress, tools, camp stove and my savior this morning, a small cooler that ran off the electrical system filled with water and Gatorade. I grabbed a blue Gatorade, fumbled through the green pack for ibuprofen, and chased both with an ice cold Heineken. My stomach clenched for a moment and I inhaled carefully until the danger passed. Besides missing the interview for a job I didn’t really care about, there seemed to be no ill effects from the night before. I laugh out loud, not caring much for how I sound, then collapse until the midday sun wakes me up.

It seems I am always waking up. Those moments right after wakening, as my befuddled brain makes sense of my surroundings (or not) are usually the only lucid thoughts that I have until the next time that I wake up. A glance around confirms what I last remember: I am in a hospital. The doctor-looking guy is sitting there once again, with only a different tie identifying that he’d ever left. I’m shaking very badly now, and my sheets are clean, recently changed, which could have multiple indications. Neither my wife nor my son are in sight.

The intern, as I would learn later, stood, brushed off his pants, tossed his McMuffin wrapper in the trash and sat on the foot of my bed. “Good morning, Mr. Matney. How do you feel?” I feel that, in the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively stupid question. “Do you know where you are?” “In the hospital,” I reply, as there really is no other answer. The fact that the toilet has a lid rules out worse places. He makes some notes in his notebook, similar to the one I carry while working in restaurants to help with remembering shit, like the special of the day, or one of the many stock recipes I carry around, mostly in my head. His pen scratches noisily, nearly enough to drive me crazy.

“Where is my wife?” He has turned his curious, unsettling gaze on me once more. I feel more like a lab rat or a medical curiosity than a patient. “How is my son?” My restraints are still in place, which is gnawing at me every single second that I am awake.

He assures me that they are well and safely at home. I relax a bit into the bed, relieved. I then turn to sorting out the sequence of events that brought me here.

I’d been drinking heavily since around mid-October, 2012. My wife had gotten pregnant with our first child around the first of March of the same year and I had made a half-assed attempt to sober up in September. I’d lost my scholarships, my status as a graduate student and dismissed from the teaching program in which I was enrolled shortly after my attempt to get clean. I lasted a few weeks a few weeks after that, then, tired of dodging the truth about why I was home and not in the school systems and why I wasn’t working on my thesis, I found it easier to pretend to go to work and instead join the early morning night shift crowd at a local bar that I liked very much at the time.

As to how, exactly, I ended up here, I realize I don’t have a clue. The intern watches my attempt to put together the recent past. Distinctly remember a very large, very sweaty guy in scrubs and a mask digging around in my ass with an air of vague interest and boredom. Checking for hemorrhoids, he had said. Most like causing them, I thought, expecting one of his cigar shaped finger to protrude out of my mouth, or maybe my nose as he rooted around like he’d lost something up there.

I explain to the intern that I had little idea of what had happened prior to my visit to my primary doctor. I remember going to breakfast, having a Bloody Mary, going to the ABC store, having a fight with my wife and throwing up blood in the bathroom. Beyond that, I reply, I don’t really know. “Do you know what day it is?” A valid question, no doubt. One I don’t really have an answer for. “March?” I guessed. Time to plant fruit trees and prepare the garden boxes for spring.

“What day is it in March? What year?” I frown at him. “I don’t know!?! It’s March! Where is my wife?” He sighs, and looks at his hands. “She dropped you off at your doctor’s office two days ago. Do you not remember any of this?” I stare at him blankly. Slow horror is creeping up on me in the darkness leaking into my peripheral vision. “Do you remember when your son was born? What day?”

My son was born on December 30, 2012 at 9:32 a.m. He was healthy, whole and my wife survived the ordeal with her usual toughness, ignoring or overlooking the fact that I had been drinking for about two months straight. By the time I left the safety of my office upstairs next to the nursery and drove my wife to the hospital in Roanoke, about an hour away, I was well into withdrawals and teetering on the edge of delirium tremens. My hands were shaking, my vision overcompensating and my basic motor skills were just about shot. I honestly wanted nothing more than to get my wife to the doctor and then find a bar. The further we went the less concerned I was about what order these things happened in.

It was late, and my wife was in labor. We did make it to the hospital. I concentrated on driving as though I was a steely-eyed participant in the Daytona 500 with the whole world watching, praying that I would pass a cop so I could ensure that the two people that I loved more than anything else in my life would make it safely to the hospital. The white lines became mental barriers as the wind howled and swirling snow slammed into the exterior of her car, muffled by layers of crash protection and sound proofing. Laura was in terrible pain and horrified that I would crash at the same time. My maximum speed appeared to be around 45 miles per hour, which I was convinced was nearly the same speed as an Enterprise Space Jump. The snow reminded me of the stars flying by in the movies.

We made it. Nolan was born without incident. I took the first few pictures of him and held Laura’s hand during delivery and managed to stay upright long enough for my sister and mother to visit, call her parents, who lived on the eastern shore, about six hours away, and converse with the nurses and doctors about Nolan’s health.

I reeked of rum and ketosis. My body was losing its ability to get through the sixteen hours or so that I had spent without alcohol. I was shaking and sweating horribly and wanted nothing more than a drink, an ambien, two ibuprofen and a place to sleep. Nolan solemnly looked around him in an attempt to see this noisy world he had been so rudely dumped into and napped between feedings. He mostly stared where the face of his mother was, into the voice and heartbeat that he had known for nearly nine months, a time of safety and care and bonding. His mom’s womb had nourished and held him and the bonds of love had developed deeply in that time period, as only they can between a mother and child that share the same space, blood, dreams and emotions from day one of his conception.

I recognized the moment for what it was, and was saddened to despair that I was too sick to enjoy these first few moments. I groggily got through it, with little sense of time or really even space. The nurses realized that there was something wrong with me, one of which sniffed my breath delicately and advised that I go to the emergency room. Despite my pleading they would not give me as much as an ibuprofen to ease my suffering, which seemed inconceivable beside the miracle happening in the next room.

Sleep would not come to me and when it did it was full of monsters and blood and my helpless newborn son screaming in pain. I lost my sense of time and space. I constantly fell from the couch on which I was attempting to rest. Laura had been awake for over 24 hours and begged me to go home and get some rest. She told me I was the one that looked awful. It was true. It was as if a ray of sunshine had rested on her and the baby and I were a lurching spawn of hell doomed to forever look upon total beauty and happiness from a safe distance, where they could not be harmed by my sickness.

As time started to slide back into place, Laura asked me once more to go home and clean and sleep before she and the baby joined me. Her only request was that I get something to eat and bring her something back. Weariness had settled into her and she needed me to leave. In my state, I was of no help. I stank of alcohol and sweat. My sheets were tangled and yellow and I felt terrible. I was shaking so badly that I could not trust myself to hold my own newborn son, terrified that I would drop this tiny living being that God had entrusted me with.

Stumbling my way along, I found my way out of the hospital somehow, to the car and drove home. The sun was just rising and it was cold and achingly beautiful. I was nearly beyond despair. I called my parents, pretended everything was ok, babbled nonsensically about Nolan and Laura, and then finally turned into the valley that led to our home.

Situated on a knoll overlooking the New River and surrounded with oak, hickory, beech and popular, it is a beautiful place. Smoke still rose from our chimney from the firewood that I had stuffed the wood stove with just before we left for the hospital. There was a heavy frost that turned the brown background of early winter into a wonderland of color and light. This was all lost on me as I hid behind my sunglasses and grimly drove the last one hundred feet or so in four wheel drive, sliding into Laura’s parking spot by rote and ritual rather than skill. I stepped out of the car, said hello to the cat, and vomited into the frost and snow. Over and over and over, until I was on my knees with snot running from my nose and bile running from my mouth. I crawled to the woodshed, where I struggled to stand, opened the door, and clumsily grabbed a handle of peppermint liquor out of the tool rack. My body clenched and shook as I poured my first drink since my son was born into my system. I shook violently for a few minutes, then crawled into the house, leaving tracks in the snow of a body drug rather than moving of its own volition.

Hours later, I awoke in the deepening cold on the floor of the kitchen near the door, which I had sense enough to close. The liquor bottle lay close by on its side, with only a trickle of liquid remaining in the bottom. I woozily got to my feet and managed to get the fire rekindled. I took off my urine and sweat stained clothes and crammed them into the washer on the “sanitize” option and staggered into the shower, getting a good look at myself in the mirror as I went. I was horribly fat. My eyes were but specks in my swollen, drunken face. My nose and cheeks were a terrible shade of yellow, along with the whites of my eyes. My swollen stomach reached far in front of me, protruding as if I were the one who had needed to give birth, not my wife. In self-defense against the stranger in the image, I rummaged through the space under the bathroom sink, retrieved a bottle of rum, and stepped into the shower.

The next few months are only bits and snatches of half-remembered facts and dreams. I remember having newborn pictures taken with our new son and my wife, his doting and protective mother. I dimly remember cooking, canning, keeping the wood stove going and holding my son when he cried at night and needed to be fed. I drank most of the time. I remember thinking, “Now I can drink all I want – my wife and family will be diverted by the baby.” My writing deteriorated into nothing but babble and nonsense. I posted nothing on my blog, nothing on my Facebook account, called very few people and had little to no human contact outside of my wife and son.

Now, faced with an intern in the hospital room who apparently had nothing better to do than to sit on the edge of my bed, stare at me in some combination of pity and loathing and ask questions for which I had no answer. “My son was born on December 30th, 2012.” “Were you drinking then?” I covered my face with my hands, and for the first time that I could really remember, began to sob.

In the Weeds: Spring 2012 (2).

Authors Note: The morning light is filtering through the darkness from somewhere. Keeping my eyes shut as long as possible, I listen and smell for some clue as to where I am. The taste is awful – cigarettes, expensive whiskey, cheap vodka and lipstick all congealed with the bacteria that congregates in your mouth and on your tongue when you pass out with your mouth open. I smell the unmistakable smell of cheap bacon frying, a smell that grew to haunt me while I was cooking three meals a day for a camp full of spoiled girls. There is the overriding smell of perfume I can’t place and my clothes reek of pot.

Taking a chance, I open my eyes. My head screams in terror at the sudden sensory overload. I feel thick, aching, sore, gross and relatively sure I’m somewhere I shouldn’t be. My interview! Shit. What happened? I dimly remember drinking expensive bourbon at a bar I used to frequent when I was in graduate school – when I was someone else. I remember high-fiving some guy I didn’t know while taking a piss in a trough in the restroom. I remember a blond girl with lots of lipstick and a fishnet outfit – it was eighties night, what a night.

The cinder block walls, adorned with selfies, Christmas lights, empty six-pack cartons and a shelf full of sex toys tell me where I am. A girl’s dorm room. Damn. I must have been wasted. I quick check reveals that I am still fully clothed, but I can smell lipstick strongly, so it must be on my face. My wallet is across the room on a nightstand covered in girl stuff – tubes of lipstick, make-up, glitter, thongs, bras, pictures of current and/or ex-boyfriends. I don’t know where my phone is, and I don’t care. It has only one number in it anyway and they will give me another one as soon as I turn up.

I slide out of bed and pull on my missing boot, not bothering with the mirror or state of looks. I only want to make it back to my old truck and sleep this shit off until I can make the drive back to D.C. This was stupid, dumb of me. I never went home with anyone. Not ever. My number one rule while drinking. I hear girls giggling in the background, behind the closed bedroom door and I catfoot to the window, relieved that it is open, even more relieved that it is on the ground floor.

I fade into the mid-morning sunlight like a vampire seeking his coffin. I catch a glimpse of myself in a store window while walking down the hill away from the girl’s dormitory. The man looking back at me is not the same one I used to see. He’s sad. Lonely. Sick. Tired. Emaciated.

I wake up to a cold rain rattling at the windows and the sounds of a hospital room. Breathing carefully, I open my eyes and see the IV placed in my hand, taped in place by what appears to be experienced hands. A catheter snakes out from under my blankets and I really don’t want to deal with that fact at the moment. Baby steps.

A man in a doctor’s coat is sitting in a chair at the foot of my hospital bed. A visual check of my surroundings reveals nothing about the date or what hospital I am in. I’m not handcuffed nor restrained, which is good, or at least not as bad as it could be. My brain tries to process for a moment, then retreats like a Comanche into the mist. I collapse back on the bed, still trying to breathe, pulling air out of my abdomen, as deeply as I possibly can. My abdomen is swollen, grotesque under the covers. I’m in more pain that I have experienced before. My mouth is beyond dry, parched, my tongue swollen. My hands shake so much that I can’t reach the water that is just out of reach beside the bed and I collapse back, content to let the mystery of the guy at the end of bed go unsolved for the moment.

There are footsteps from soft soled shoes, unmistakably worn by a nurse. They have the best shoes for your feet in the world. Even better than what we wear in the kitchen, as there worn shoes are a testament to the number of years you’ve spend behind the line, slinging plates, shouting orders, yelling for corrections, enduring the searing heat that you eventually begin feel is normal.

I realize that my alarm is going off and I feel the world fading. Hanging on to the present with both hands, filling my head with memories, I ask the guy at the foot of my bed about my wife, my son. He is on his feet with a clinical look of puzzlement, nodding to my questions. They are ok – yes, your wife brought you here, no you can’t call, not at the moment. The nurse leans in close and checks my pupils. I’m shaking all over now, trying to retch something up that isn’t there.

The doctor, if that’s what he is, pushes me back in the bed with one hand. Despite my massive weight, I am too weak to even attempt to sit up. My hands seem to belong to someone else as I place them over my face and begin to weep at the realization of how far I have sunk and fear of what I may have done. The nurse presents a needle and over my mostly feeble injections, adds it to the contents of my IV bag. I fall back into a semi-coma like a lost soul into hell, wondering what happened. Did I hurt anyone? WHERE is my wife and child??

Everything turns gray and I turn to the nurse, mouthing the question one last time. She squeezes my hand. “Everything will be fine. Rest now.”

So, You Think You Should Be A Chef?

 

Chances are, if you are a reasonably good home cook, in that you own or aspire to own the finest of professional kitchen appliances, any pot or pan that is French, cast iron that is new and a chef’s knife that cost more than $150, you’ve had these words said to you after a successful dinner party: “You should be a Chef!” Your well-intentioned and undoubtedly tipsy dinner guest, after plying him/herself with your food, your liquor and the products of your work, and no doubt feels grateful for what you have done, jealous that their significant other is now attracted to you and irritated that your plates perfectly complimented the presentation of the meal and wine, down to the cocktail glasses.

You had all day, all week even, to prepare this feast and you are feeling pretty good about yourself. As you mingle with your guests, in your Williams and Sonoma apron with your initials monogrammed on the front, a white clean towel from Crate and Barrel carelessly thrown over your shoulder you start to think some very dangerous thoughts. After all, doesn’t everyone love the roast organic whole chicken from Whole Foods that you carefully brined overnight and roasted in one of your dual Viking Ovens while reading “Cooking with Bobby Flay” with a perfect glass of Portuguese Tempranillo which has been decanted in a crystal vessel imported from France. You continue to muse over the possibilities while shining the stainless steel, marble and granite that adorns your kitchen. Normally the Hispanic help does this, but you feel like working tonight and he’s been a little absent lately. He was probably deported.

Then you come up with the following: “I SHOULD be a chef!”

Everyone says so, even your Mom. You look good on camera, can carry on a conversation of the pros of imported versus domesticated truffles with the smugness of one who lives for the next new Food Network show and religiously studies the “Washington Post” food section.

You’ve seen the idiots on T.V., who you vaingloriously emulate while shopping in the natural foods store. How hard could it be? You’re well-travelled, been to Spain, Italy and France and take great pride in knowing who the chef is in all the high-end restaurants that you’ve dined in. Only one other person that you know of has been to more of Guy Fieri’s DDD recommendations. You continue to muse away in your kitchen, running your fingers over the $400 cutting board, picked up in Vietnam (nobody goes to Hawaii anymore, you pronounced just hours ago) and had shipped back to your house.

It’s time for a mid-life change anyway, right? You eagerly open up your IPAD and do a quick search for “Executive Chef.” Hmmmmm. “Minimum fifteen years or kitchen experience, culinary degree preferred, experience running your own gourmet farm to table menu, the ability to motivate others with your own culinary creations and full fiscal responsibility for a medium sized restaurant in need of creative menu adaptations.”

You read it again. It’s a restaurant that you’re familiar with and, wonder of wonders, didn’t you meet the owner’s wife or mistress or something at a food bloggers “Food and Wine of the World” with all proceeds going to save the Ethiopian Puppies? Or maybe it was Himalayan Tiger Awareness. At any rate, you drift off to sleep with visions of perfectly plated roast duck and pork skin croutons dancing in your head.

You make some phone calls the next morning and after pulling some strings and political favors and promising that you would indeed make your famous bacon-banana-chocolate cupcakes with raspberry icing, you get through to the restaurant owner.

“Hello.” The voice on the phone sounds distracted, irritated. You introduce yourself hurriedly, somehow suddenly afraid. “Chef position? Yes, we have a chef position we are seeking to fill. What is your experience? Who are your references?” You explain that you have travelled extensively, attended multiple cooking events and host a wildly successful series of pro-bono dinners for charity. The voice on the phone sounds bored. “You’ve done what?” You decide a few name drops are in order. Now the voice seems irritable. “I’m sorry, but we’re looking for someone with experience. Have you EVER worked a line?” That seems like a reasonable request. The line, you distinctly remember, is something that Anthony Bourdain, that smartass, used to work.

“Yes.” You answer confidently. “Ten years sauté, five in menu design, tasting and expediting.” Even as the lie rolls of your tongue your thinking of Miguel, your lawn guy who has been deported. Didn’t he work in a kitchen now? How hard could it be?

The next thing you know you’re headed down to a local restaurant for an interview and a food demonstration. You load your Mercedes SUV with your best knife, designer towels and at last though, throw in a jar of truffles and some fresh rosemary picked from the bush outside your study.

You arrive at the destination, which is a little run-down, in your suddenly expert opinion, and find the kitchen in an uproar. It’s nothing like you imagined. Flames seem to be everywhere, with wait staff impatiently yelling at the cooks in a language you can’t even comprehend. It seems to be a mix of Spanish, English and restaurant jargon peppered with obscenities. You rather timidly wave to Manuel, who is manning what appears to have once been a grill, now transformed into a carbon-covered, greasy, smoking, filthy creature that you wouldn’t allow on your street. A runner passes you with a cigarette still clenched in her teeth and swears at you to move, PLEASE!

You can’t find the owner, or anyone else that seems to be in charge, except for the young, white, sweaty guy yelling orders across a stack of plates while clutching a fistful of white tickets. As you approach he screams something intelligible at a heavily tattooed Hispanic girl sporting giant biceps who appears to be chopping a whole animal.

Nervous now, you stand awkwardly a few feet away from the sweaty white guy, feeling a little ridiculous in your tie and favorite apron and carrying your Masakage Hikari Chef knife, purchased on your last trip to Tokyo.

“Whatdoyouwant?” You realize the sweaty white guy is talking to you while you were staring at the new and old burns, scars and tattoos that adorn his forearms. “I’m looking for the owner,” you say quickly, your voice breaking a bit. The cook replies that the owner isn’t there and grabs a stack of plates from a cart. Eager to help, or at least not flee, you follow suit and grab a similar stack of plates. You scream in pain and instantly drop the plates, which shatter in a deafening thunder on the grimy tile floor. Everyone cheers while you stare at your burned hand in disbelief. How the hell did he pick those up like that?

The cook shakes his head and keeps going, barking orders as he goes. He puts down the stack of plates, pulls a dirty jacket off a rack on the wall and motions for you to follow. By the time you get to the door, he has lit a cigarette and is rattling off what appears to be orders on his phone. He plants his bony ass on an upended bucket outside the kitchen door and takes a long, grateful drag on his cigarette. Squinting through the smoke, you feel that he is sizing you up or something. “So, you want to be the chef?”

You have never been so grateful to be back in the safety of your car. This story, with a few tweaks, of course, will be great at the next charity dinner. You’ll have to make sure and tell all of the owner’s friends that he sold the restaurant to some Hispanic guy.

Back on the line, Manuel picks up the Masakagi knife, looks it over curiously and turns to the other cooks. “Cuya consolador es esto?” While the other cooks, including the heavily muscled girl with the leg of lamb, which is now separated into recognizable cuts, howl with laughter, he contemptibly tosses the knife in the sink. He picks up his white handled serrated knife and proceeds breaking down a pork roast for house made enchiladas while mentally estimating the cost per serving. It’s tough being the owner.

 

Appetite for Destruction

Authors Note: The following is an excerpt from a larger body of work written largely from my own experiences, but like all authors I reserve the right to change names to protect the guilty, seasons to reflect my mood and religions as it suits me. I generally leave politics out of everything. All situations similar to those experienced by anyone else are not my fault!

I have never been one to be defined, at any point really in my life, unlike so many of my own generation, by the music that I listened to. The main reason is that music, unlike books, was relatively rare in our house. My parents didn’t own a massive record collection, didn’t have music happy hour or family time and my Dad flatly refused to listen to the radio in the car, like most normal people do, as that interfered with his driving and he couldn’t hear the engine properly over the sound of the radio. So, as a result I never became enamored by the sounds of my generation of the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s as so many others did.

But during the summer of 1990, the album was everywhere. It defined us. We identified with it, with the screaming lyrics and the intensity, frustrations of corporate marketing and Hollywood’s definition of who we were, those lost souls from the end of what would be later coined as the x-generation. We were torn between mullets and camo hats, Rambo style sleeveless shirts and the inevitable no-sock, white sport jacket by Sonny Crockett. We were enticed by the Mambo No. Five, but clung to the roots of our land and heritage as tenaciously as possible.

Unfortunately, this was a time of turmoil and strife within the coal fields of Virginia and the surrounding states. The traditional ways of life were rapidly disappearing right before our eyes. Jobs were drying up faster than we could scrap up ways to make up money somewhere else. Many turned to drugs – something I steered mostly clear of throughout my life, recognizing that there was no escape from the path before me without turning my back on what others were embracing.

One particular morning is forever imprinted on my mind. I had graduated from high school and was accepted into the Air Force Academy, Virginia Tech, UVA and King College. My dream, my childhood dream and reason for most things I did was to become a fighter pilot in the USAF. I was too young to enter the academy and so had agreed to go to King College instead of the other schools of choice. It was closer to home and my girlfriend at the time lived not far away.

That morning, in the dew of the backyard near my dad’s workshop, I had disassembled a race bike that I had found in a nearby town, hopelessly crashed and in pieces in a crate. The birds sang, I was deeply tanned already from all the time spent in the gardens, working construction and simply being constantly outside. My dad had sort of given me a car, one that I hated, but ran and got really good gas mileage, which wasn’t much of a concern in 1990. “Sweet Child Of Mine” was playing on the radio that morning and the sun was already evaporating the mist. My wrenches spun in the early morning and my siblings wandered out to see what I was doing. My baby sister, forever at that time of her life in rollerblades, skated up to say hello. She should have been barely walking but instead had leapfrogged all the way to wheels on her feet.

I knew I could turn a profit on the bike I was rebuilding, I had races scheduled all summer, thirty-five yards to mow, a girlfriend a few towns over, plenty of walking around money and the world in my pocket. All I had to do was phone in a semester at King and theoretically I would be bombing our poverty stricken enemies from the relative safety of the cockpit of an F-16, to me the sexiest of planes. I really thought I would be running dogfighting missions across Southeast Asia, but my imagination often supplanted reality.

The reality was, I went to King, experienced terrible cafeteria food for a few months, managed to beat my parents off the campus when they dropped me off, sans car as I had totaled it over the summer and proceeded to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted during my first moments of total freedom.

The problem was, I didn’t know what I wanted. All my life, my parents had encouraged, nay, insisted, that I go to college. Having never went to college themselves, they really didn’t understand the actual benefits, the money involved or what impact it would really have on a relatively sheltered mountain boy to be abandoned on a campus full of Navy Blue Jacketed white boys and girls still wearing bobby socks and parking their BMW’s in the school “patched” parking lot.

I played “Welcome to the Jungle” and “My Michelle” on a never ending loop in my dorm room, enraging the other students. Nights could be found with my head under a pillow and “Paradise City” blasting in my ears as Bobby and Cody discovered that they were gay next door. Was that the ultimate rebellion? I settled for my stand against authority “Animal House” style: Ron Matney “Has no GPA.”

Did I understand the ramifications of my rebellion against nothing? Not really. I simply went back home, to a world I understood and started over. I went back to my old job with my uncle, attended community college and vaguely pursued my dream of being a pilot. I kept myself in unbelievable shape, something not hard to do with the work I was performing. I practiced exams and study guides until I knew them by heart.

I was again accepted into Virginia Tech in 1994. Thrilled beyond belief, my parents readied me for my second excursion into a larger world, my being better prepared, they hoped. What did I do that summer? I married a local girl who refused to leave her parent’s last wedding gift – a single-wide house trailer behind their house. Why? I have no idea. Self-destruction, I suppose. An excuse for not succeeding in a larger world. My little world was strategically placed in case of failure. Intentionally, no. Subconsciously, I think it was a safety net.

One I didn’t need, not that time. I did well at VT, working in mining on the weekends in WV and maintaining a grueling study/workout/work regime that may have in the beginning embarrassed a Navy SEAL. I was determined now to be a pilot. I finished my degree with my dream almost within my grasp when my future ex-wife, demanded, no insisted, no, screamed that we must return to her mommy and church where she could go to church instead of hell, which she was certain existed just east of Blacksburg and extended all the way to the center of the earth.

We did return, I worked as a mine foreman and hated every minute of my existence. I would get phone calls from students who were travelling the world, going on perpetual vacations and having what seemed to me a euphoric existence. I fought black lung and had knee and ankle surgery. They played on a beach in Thailand – I had my ankle reconstructed. They worked as bartenders and lived for schwag – I was trying to make as much money as I could.

With what most considered to be a certain future and a great life, I walked again. Left my wife and her bubble and entered graduate school at VT, where I fought once again with authority over my responsibilities as a PhD student. I lasted exactly one semester. Undeterred, I was accepted into RU’s graduate program, where I was a perfect fit. After graduation I was offered several jobs, good ones with high pay – I went to the beach for the summer. I was accepted into the PhD program in Geological Engineering at VT – I crashed my car and broke 27 bones.

My Dad was diagnosed with a terminal liver disease about that time. I was offered a full position with the NASA group studying the Mars mission in Reno, NV. I moved to Reno, once again clashed with authority, decided there was too much drama and left.

Back in mining in WV once again, I locked horns with my bosses once more, fighting them over every slip in safety regulations, dreading the day when I would be responsible for someone dying somehow on the longwall, one of the most dangerous places on this earth. The strain broke me and I ended up in D.C., dating a want-to-be-but-never-will-be model who had followed me around like a lost dog for years. After so much drama that my nervous system was shot, I started drinking heavily and broke up with her.

I met my wife in D.C. and the self-destruction lessened on the surface and increased with depth. I worked hard, made her proud, was promoted and given a huge office. I hated the city with all my heart. I threw away that opportunity and we moved to Blacksburg, VA where I worked for a smaller office and was largely bored. I left the safety of that firm for another, then another as I sought something, something to fill a space emptied by a lack of, what, exactly? I didn’t know. There was just no challenge, no excitement and I was horribly bored and stressed at the same time. My drinking escalated by that point enough to scare my wife.

During the economic crash of 2006-2009, I had largely escaped intact due to my charisma and work ethic and mostly likeable personality. No one saw the real me behind the false face I projected – nobody saw the addict, the self-destructive tendencies, the old injuries and scars of so many years of living so close to the edge. I lost my job in 2009, not from any fault of my own for the first time, but from the firm downsizing. I just became a number in an equation that was failing.

After a period of wallowing in self-guilt and pity, I snapped out of it long enough to find another job, not one that I wanted or liked, but it was safe. My wife worked with the firm and was invaluable to them – they wanted to keep her at all costs, even if it meant hiring her largely overweight, rather flaky husband with a dubious resume and strange background.

After about a year, I became so frustrated and bored that I was considering packing our things and leaving. We talked about it, but I didn’t know what to do. My drinking escalated.

By this point, everyone knew I had a problem. Most probably knew what it was. I didn’t. I once again pursued something else, a passion that I have always had for teaching, studying for a M.S. in teaching. I was wildly successful as a student, at the top of my class every semester. At this point, my drinking had consumed my life.

The School Board realized something was wrong. Tasked with the safety of the children and placement of teachers in schools, they made the decision to expel me from the program, the first of such in years. I fought it and was re-admitted, only to be asked to leave once more.

Around this time, my wife became pregnant. We were thrilled beyond belief and my drinking lessened. As the time period for his entrance into the world came closer, I became more and more self-destructive, drinking heavily most of the time.

Impaled on a spear of guilt and self-immolation, I crashed and burned. Nearly dead, my wife admitted me into the hospital for my second attempt at monitored rehabilitation. It worked, for about three months. I started hiding alcohol again and becoming ever more vague about my whereabouts, what I was doing and the depth of my sickness. My wife panicked one day, fearing for my safety as well as hers and helped me admit myself into rehab. She and my team of doctors and counselors saved my life that day, once again.

Throughout all this time, food remained and continues to be a solace, almost an embrace, a place where I can reconnect with my childhood and those innocent days of the season, each with their unique flavors and cooking methods. From canning to grilling, storage and ripening, time spent in the kitchen became irreplaceable. No matter how hungover, how sick, how broken or how depressed – a day in the kitchen creating dishes brought me crashing back to reality, where I would often curse my addiction and the wasted time spent fighting against authority of any kind.

Today, things are quite different. I am treating each day as an opportunity, being honest with my wife and it’s been seven months since I’ve had a drink of any kind. The only job that I could get after all of that nonsense was as a line cook at a local restaurant and resort. I work hard, go home every day and thank God for my chance to be with my family, sober and clear-headed for the first time in a very long time.

Like most of my generation, I have come to peace with my life and who I am, but some spring mornings I can still hear the gripping notes and polarizing lyrics of “Appetite for Destruction.” They fade now into the shadows as I play with my son and hug my wife thank God for these moments of peace in my life.