Chapter Nine: Independence Day
“…for then we surrendered ourselves to events and were lost in them, and the least little thing was enough to carry us down the stream of eternity.”
— Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
By the Fourth of July, I had accomplished getting sober and well enough for an honorable discharge from St Mary’s. My “target release date” had been set for 10 days, but after seven I’d had enough. And I had an offer of a ride to Portland for the holiday. I was really looking forward to the fireworks. I felt a bit shaky, but pretty good overall. I was confident. I was also clean-shaven for the first time since YCJ, with a new scar over my top lip where my broken teeth had busted through. I had no recollection of receiving the stitches I discovered while trying to shave. A doctor removed them for me so I could finish the job. I packed up, checked out, and waited with my friend for the ride to arrive.
My buddy Hassan’s brother dropped us off on the Block on July 3rd. Hassan was now at the Sally and I was in the dirty courtyard of the Preble Street Resource Center. I was stone-cold sober and had begun to realize: all the biggest drunks in the Little City were my “best friends,” my “only friends,” and they all “loved me, man.”
I had Benny hanging on one shoulder, saying “Who’s your only friend?” and Grey Wolf hanging on the other shoulder, drooling a bit and nodding, uh-huh-ing in agreement. It was Drunk in stereo, and as I listened to the two of them, Jeremy’s modest proposal echoed in this chorus of lunacy: “Would you prefer to drink with an Indian or an Irishman?” and I saw there was no difference … in any of it. The large, the small, the human mind; consciousness, community, even the individual, the human itself, seemed to be all blurred together. Were there sides to all of this, or was it all integers in an equation equaling one final sum?
All the people I knew best were simultaneously the smartest and most ignorant they could be, myself included. I knew too much and understood too little. And as I had this epiphany, I understood it was all as ugly as it was beautiful. It was what Nietzsche meant by “Beyond Good and Evil.” This was Nature. I could hear beyond the two of them on either shoulder. I heard the spice heads and the junkies arguing and fighting. I also heard the small children at the nursery school behind them, laughing and singing. It was Independence Day and the school was closed, but I could hear the ghosts of their Spirits still. I could suddenly smell flowers and food enmeshed with the scents of booze and body odor and byproducts of organic waste. It was all too much.
Then Benny — and I can’t imagine his motivation, he was already so wasted — wanted to smoke pot. Chowdahead said he had a guy for that. He was willing to run for Ben, which he did.
Upon his return, Chowdahead sat with me, both of us sober. He told me he’d given the dime bag to Ben, and Ben was gonna smoke us up in a minute. I was pleased. I needed to relax. My mind was in a whirlwind of wonder and I was aware that I could never explain it, even if I could one day understand it. Several minutes went by, many minutes. I don’t know how many. I had no way to tell. Time is a variable, relative.
Chowdahead got up and confronted Benny. “You were supposed to smoke us up.”
“I don’t have any weed,” was Benny’s response. It was the wrong one. Chowdahead lost it. He beat the living piss out of Benjamin John Berry. They went down on top of the bicycles chained by the Resource Center’s staff entrance, then to the tar, and there was blood, and broken glass, and madness. I had to go. I got out of there. I went to the shelter on Oxford Street. There’s less insanity there and, unlike Preble Street, they had staff on duty during the holiday: security.
My desire to see the fireworks had been extinguished. I’d had enough fireworks for one day. Every drunk in town knew me and most of them would be there somewhere, celebrating Freedom in the streets. I had multiple invites from separate sub-factions of the Crew — the Griz, Ronnie Williams, Peter and Anita — and I declined them all to sit and read by myself. I can’t even recall what I read. It doesn’t matter. It’s all a distraction. Everything is empty, everything is a deception. The Universe began, and continues, in a state of absurdity, all Reality the delusion of an Eternal Orphan alone with nothing but Its own thoughts. Nature is not Mother, She is more like a sister; the Cosmos more a brother than Our Father.