Authors: Stephen Reid
Tags: #LCO10000, #SOC030000, #BIO024000
There are two reasons. After we lost Morgan, and of course the nervous guy who ate the eyes, everyone became cautious. The remaining apostles entered into a no-risk zone. The second is Buster. Each time one of the younger guys takes a chance and starts with something real, Buster growls him down with, “I don't give a rat's ass what you think.” After a hundred promising starts were rubbed out by a rat's ass, it became a joke behind Buster's back. Need to borrow a pencil? I don't give a rat's ass. It's supposed to snow tomorrow. I don't give a rat's ass.
I'm on my way to the big yard when I run into Raven. I ask her how life is without a boyfriend and she tells me she's sworn off relationships; she now plans to focus more on herself. Raven looks like, well, Raven, but her presence seems more substantial. When I ask for an update on Spider Man and Morgan, she tells me Spider is Spider and Morgan is still incoherent and four pointed to the bed in the Chinese cell at the back of A wing.
An old native guy in street clothes and a felt cowboy hat approaches us. Raven introduces me to Cecil Johnny, a native Elder who visits this prison. Cecil says he is building a new lodge here and I'm welcome to attend a sweat. I let him know that I'll think about it; Cecil gives me sweet grass before leaving.
By the time the treatment team meeting rolls around Morgan has gone for tests to the Provincial Mental Hospital at Riverview. Alyssa and Christina tell me they are pleased with my level of participation in group though the psychologist who studies us through the camera has added “some narcissistic traits” to my profile.
I want to diagnose the psychologist as a voyeuristic crank but I leave it there knowing he is, of course, right. What he doesn't know is that I may be the only narcissist in the world with a case of unrequited self-love.
Christmas Eve The Foote shows up with his crew for a surprise shakedown on the tier. They toss our cells, making a mess, then depart going, “Ho Ho Ho.” The rest of the holiday season passes with Sally Ann Sunshine Bags, attempted suicides, and dark chocolate.
Teal returns in the new year, noticeably thinner, but the ABC's of REBT are growing old. I already have what I need from this program, I'm just occupying a chair, and like Buster and all the other guys, waiting for graduation day. Still, if I hear one more rat's ass I think I'm going to commit homicide. Then it comes, a response to a youngster's complaint of depression.
Buster is all over him, “I don't give a rat's ass. You sleep all day, watch TV. Never work out. You're not depressed, you're weak.” The kid clams up. Buster is about half right on this one but that's hardly the point anymore.
The next morning in group I begin, “I believe the saddest thing I know would be a man in his fifties, my age, who has no sense of humour, has never learned to laugh at himself, and whose power over other people leaves the room when he does.” I'm not even looking at Buster, but he and everyone in the room, knows who I'm talking to.
“Nobody here gives a rat's ass what you believe.” Buster doesn't backwater, I have to give him that.
Later, I see Buster in the bathroom, both hands on the sink, staring down. I figure I better get this over with so I walk in and tell him not to take it personally. Buster doesn't say anything, I don't know where this is going and I'm worried I've pushed him too hard.
Buster doesn't lift his gaze from the sink when he asks, “They all laugh at me, don't they?”
“They're just scared of you is all. It's chow time. Let's eat.” But Buster isn't letting go his grip on the sink.
“We are down to our last few weeks of group, fellas.”
Teal's words are ones I'd longed to hear, although group has become not half bad. Buster's still not giving a rat's ass, but now he's saying it in a good way. A few of the guys are making jokes and even Alyssa's eyes have turned a kinder shade of blue. If we're not careful it's liable to get downright warm and fuzzy.
Buster, D, and me take a turn in the big yard. It's the spring equinox. Morgan is back from Riverview. He's walking right ahead of us, a little shaky but on recovery row. D bounds off to do a workout; he has put on about thirty pounds of cut muscle and is going to be all right wherever he goes.
The Spider Man is still lying lost in his grassy world. We come around the corner of the track and Raven is hanging off the gate waving me and Buster in. Cecil Johnny wants our help over on the sweat lodge grounds. We are led to a fenced-in security area behind the hospital. A guard lets us in and snaps the gate shut behind us.
Cecil shows us where he wants the willows to be placed in the ground, how to bend and tie them together with red strips of cloth.
Buster loves a project and he's been barking like a straw foreman since we started. I tell him I don't give a rat's ass what piece of red cloth he wants me to hand him next.
Cecil directs us to drape heavy canvas tarpaulins over the skeleton frame, then with everything pulled and tucked to his satisfaction, we sit on the ground exhausted and admire our lodge.
“Want to try a sweat?” Cecil asks, holding out towels towards me and Buster. Buster strips down to his boxers; I follow and we grab pitchforks to help Raven carry the rocks and place them in the pit in the center of the lodge.
Cecil sits at the back of the lodge facing the small doorway as we crawl in on our hands and knees. He directs Raven, “because you are two-spirited, my dear” to sit in the north, to his left, and for me and Buster to take the southern side. We sit cross-legged, facing the glowing rocks. Cecil lights the pipe and then Raven drops the flap down over the doorway plunging us into blackness.
There is the hiss of steam. This is the earth's womb: warm and moist and too dark to see. Cecil the Elder launches into a song as old and far-seeing as the wind.
HE BLOOD BROKE INTO TWO RIVULETS
along the smooth skin of my inner forearm. My head sank back into the new leather of the bucket seat and my body went limp. Paul returned the glass syringe to its coffin-like case and dabbed at my arm with a soft white cotton ball. His face swam up to mine, as if to steal a kiss. I felt such a helpless peace I would have kissed him back, had I known how. On that warm Indian summer day in northern Ontario, I had just been given my first taste of morphine. I wouldn't turn twelve until the snow fell and melted again the following spring; by then I would have had a lot more of Paul and a lot more of his morphine. By then, I'd have learned to fix myself.
Paul was everything I was not. He was rich, had elegant features, and graceful hands. He owned a new white Thunderbird convertible. Paul was also a grown man, a doctor, and a pedophile. The morphine, of course, was a prelude.
Something was loosed in me that October day, something beyond blood, beyond my bantam genitals from my jeans. There is a memory so fixed and so perfect that on certain days a part of my brain listens to no other.
The top is down on his Thunderbird,
the pale autumn sun warm on my skin. The blood running down my
arm is like spilled roses. We are hidden from the road, partway down
an old tractor trail in the grass. I am pressed against the rich red leather.
Not ten feet away, yellow waxy leaves make their death rattle in the
late afternoon breeze. I am in profound awe of the ordinary â the pale
sky, the blue spruce tree, the rusty barbed wire fence, those dying yellow
leaves. I am high. I am eleven years old and in communion with this
world. Wholly innocent, I enter the heart of unknowing.
For much of the winter that followed I lay face down on the couch in Paul's rec room, with my skinny white arm sticking out from under him, waiting for the next jab. I still lived at home, shared a bed with my brother, and ate my porridge with brown sugar every morning at the crowded kitchen table. I carried myself to school. After dinner, I slung my hockey bag over my shoulder and left the house waving to my mother who thought I was spending my evenings at the rink. I can still see Paul's car, idling with the lights out, waiting for me on the snow-packed road, the plume of the car's exhaust rising in the cold air, a ghostly curtain of white vapour I crossed through each time I went to him.
Day-to-day existence became like an old photograph of my former life, faded and curling in at the edges. My body, once eager to explore every nook and cranny of the world around me, seemed now to resist the smallest of efforts. I went to Paul again and again, trying to get me back, trying to jam me back up my veins. But the more I tried, the more gaping the hole became, until so much had been spilled from me only the morphine seemed to matter. The struggle to stop my boyhood from flowing out changed to a struggle to stem the darkness flooding in â the secret self-loathing that pools in the heart of every junkie.
Paul unzipped my childhood, but it's never been as singular or as uncomplicated as blame. Mine is more than the story of a boy interrupted. It is not what Paul took from me, it is what I kept: the lie that the key to the gates of paradise was a filled syringe. In all the thousands of syringes I've emptied into my arm since then, the only gates that ever opened led to the penitentiary. Yet for most of my adult years I have clung to a deep sense of longing, a desire to return to that moment when the plunger hit bottom and the morphine arrived home for the very first time. I have staggered through a turbulent life, but I've lived that life in the arena of possibilities like everyone else. I have made countless choices along the way, broken my bones on good fortune, vandalized the best of my intentions. I have misappropriated trust, defrauded love, and found â then lost â redemption so many times you'd think I had holes in my pockets, all the while trying desperately to transport myself back to that first taste of radiance, to obliterate the dark winter that followed.
I have quit heroin to become a better thief. I have quit heroin to become a better father, a better husband, a better friend, a better citizen. I have maintained these clean and good intentions for years at a stretch, but I have never stayed quit. It's true of men: we keep our dark secrets, hold to an unflagging belief in our manly self-will. We don't ask for directions to the corner store, and we don't ask for help in our lives. I have always returned to the needle and the spoon with a childish thirst, a self-centred insistence that I can attain utopia. The voice of the addict whispers, “Come this way, it will be different this time. Just this once, what you seek will be here.” Ad, from the Latin “toward” or “yes” and dict from the Latin “say”. Addicts just say yes.
There is a zen-like irony in the junkie slang “to fix”. A shot of heroin doesn't fix anything: heroin only gives shelter to that which is broken. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote, “Every action involves risk, possibly loss, all action leads to pain.” In plainer terms, “Nobody moves, and nobody gets hurt.” Heroin addicts want to stop the world from spinning, to fix a point in time where it is safe â an embryonic state, the place before loss.
There were nine children in our family. One died young. We moved a lot when I was growing up. The houses we rented, like the town, seemed always too small; my mother had too little money to raise too many kids. My father was away much of the time: first the army, then the northern lumber camps, then the mines. When he came home he drank hard with his “chums,” and they made the kitchen seem even smaller. I loved my dad fiercely, from the misspelled name he had tattooed on his arm the day I was born to the callouses on his hands. And I believe he loved me back in the only way he knew how. My dad would have killed Paul, but the fury he would have saved for me is what kept the silence.
At thirteen I began riding a yellow bus to the regional high school nineteen miles down Highway 17. At first the school, my new-found circle of friends, seemed glamorous. I attached myself to this fresh and affluent town with zeal, spending as little time as possible at home.