The following is an excerpt from the Richard Farrell's What's Left of Us, which will be published on June 30, 2009, from Citadel Press.
Chapter One: Breath of God
The Acre wasn't pretty. You'd never see it on the postcards sold at the corner drugstores in downtown Lowell, Massachusetts. The Acre wasn't big. Nobody had grass in their front yards -- just black tar that formed the alleys separating the houses. The Acre wasn't rich. Most families had only one set of good clothes set aside for Sunday's Catholic mass. The Acre was entirely segregated from the rest of my birth city. But it was still the best section of Lowell to grow up in if you were Irish.
The Acre was nothing more than a two-mile triangle of Irish who had formed a wall of self-protection. The homes were mostly triple-deckers -- cold-water flats. Irish families had settled in Lowell years before to work in mills or build canals. All of them had escaped the horror of starvation on the streets of Ireland and found their way to Massachusetts. Compared to the Irish Famine, Lowell offered a promise of prosperity.
Smack dab in the middle of the Acre stood St. Patrick's Church where my uncle Joe Farrell had hoisted the steeple during the Roaring Twenties. It was the same St. Patrick's Church that my grandfather, Richard Farrell, checked the doors of every evening at midnight as he walked his beat as a Lowell police officer, the same St. Patrick's Church where my father and mother brought me and my brother every Sunday as kids, where I'd received the blessed sacraments of baptism, confession, first communion, and holy confirmation.
St. Patrick's School was directly opposite the church's parking lot. Two generations of the Acre's children had been educated there, from poor to poorest. It didn't matter how much money you had. There were only two prerequisites -- you had to be Irish and Catholic. It was staffed by Notre Dame nuns who were known for their propensity to ask questions after they'd already used the ruler on your knuckles. The principal, St. Claire Joseph, expelled me in the seventh grade for entering after hours because my friends and I had to use the bathroom.
Adam Street cut a line down the center of the Acre and separated the school from the North Common. The North Common was the place where my father forced me to practice walking heel to toe so I wouldn't be a cripple. For the Irish elders who'd sit for hours on a warm summer night talking about the old days, it was more than a giant park. It was their St. Steven's Green in Dublin. In the early days, the North Common hosted football games on Sundays in the fall. Two to three hundred people would show up to watch the Irish kids play the Greek kids who had settled in the lower Acre. It was always a bloodbath. There was no football, just full-contact tackle with an old, gray sweat sock stuffed full of leaves.
But by March 1987, the Acre that I remember was no more. The Irish moved out in the seventies. Some became educated and wanted more for their families. The majority was swallowed up by "white flight." They moved their families to predominantly white suburbs not more than a few miles from the Acre. Then Puerto Rico began importing their criminals to Lowell. The Acre was poor, old, and close to downtown--the perfect place for drug trafficking and prostitution.
I am a heroin addict. My life is limited to three concerns. The first thing I gotta figure out every morning is how to get a bag of heroin into my arm no more than ten minutes after I wake-up. If I fail, I'm dope sick. The cramps inside my lower stomach go on a full-scale attack. I can't stand. I can't walk. The diarrhea squirts out like a water hose. But I'm damn good at getting high now. I hardly ever stay dope-sick long.
The second issue is drawing a "hot shot" or a "beat-bag." The majority of heroin in Lowell originates from New York City. Puerto Rican gangs bring it here by the kilo. The drug dealers on Adam Street who package the heroin from one pound bricks into grams and half-gram are no Einsteins. They cut the heroin or add fake shit to stretch quantity for profit. Some dealers cut it in half and double their money. Most use quinine, which gives the bitter taste, and an Italian baby laxative called Manatol because its fine white granules have almost the identical weight of pure heroin.
So picture this, four of five Puerto Rican males in a poorly-lit room with the combined education of maybe the 8th grade, whacked on heroin or cocaine, drunk on port wine, with about fifty or sixty small piles of white powder lined out on a old door top propped on two twenty-gallon plastic paint containers being used as a cutting table. You don't have to be a fuckin' rocket scientist to figure out they ain't gonna be able to get the proper distribution of cut to heroin every time. Too much pure heroin in a half-gram package equals a "hot shot." You're history, because five minutes after the rush your heat stops. Too little or no heroin in a half-gram package gets you dope-sick.
But my major concern on Adam Street is "cotton fever." I'd rather be dope-sick all day than get what the Puerto Rican junkies down here call "cotton shot rush." It's when a dirty piece of cotton fiber used to filter the heroin makes it into your bloodstream. The sweats and shakes that ransack your body are nothin' compared to the fire under your skin. I've watched junkies do everything imaginable, cry hysterically, beg to die, boot two additional bags of heroin and overdose just to kill the sickness. A doctor in the emergency room once told me it comes from bacteria or fungus on the cotton, and not the cotton itself. To me the argument is pointless, you get "cotton shot rush" -- it doesn't matter from where it came from.
Heroin is not a cold-shake like cocaine. The impurities used to cut heroin need to be cooked off in boiling water before you shoot it intravenously. Down here we all do it the same, bite the heroin package open carefully, taste it, gag or dry heave on the bitterness, empty the heroin into a cooker, (either a spoon or the bottom of a tonic can), draw 50cc of water into the syringe, fill the cooker until the heroin drowns, and light a match.
After you see tiny bubbles dancing in the cooker you place a small sliver of cotton or a piece of a cigarette's filter into the liquid. With one hand firmly steadying the cooker, the tip of the needle is guided into the cotton or filter with the other hand. The plunger is moved upward slowly by biting firmly on to the tip and moving the head upwards. If all goes well the syringe fills with about 20cc of heroin. The task of hitting a good vein is next. And nobody down here takes the time to wrap a belt around their arm and whack the skin over a vein. That's fuckin' Hollywood. If you make it to where I am -- you're an expert at veins. After contact, you watch your blood snake into the syringe, you pull the trigger, hot liquid moves quickly up your arm, your heart tingles, and you feel an immediate rush of adrenaline guzzle your brain in one swift sip.
From there it's a crapshoot. Most addicts don't carry sterile cotton balls or Q-tips in their back pocket. If you're lucky you have access to a clean filtered cigarette. But most of the time you have to find a cigarette butt on the ground, in an ashtray, or a garbage barrel. "Cotton shot rush" is perfect example of life as a heroin addict. You live for the moment. If it happens, it happens. But there is no mistaking it when it hits. Ten to twenty minutes after you pull the trigger it whacks you like you're in the third day of the flu virus. The ears give it away: if they start to ring you're fucked. Pressure begins to mount on each side of your temple like a vise squeezing slowly together. Sweat pours off your brow but at first there is no temperature associated with it. The shakes progress quickly to trembles. Chills hit immediately after and the body's temperature spikes to over 102. Sometimes the brain fogs and things appear that aren't there. I'm not sure why some cases are more extreme than others. On occasion it can last only an hour, most times it resolves itself within 12 or 24 hours. But if the bacteria takes up residency in your heart and you don't seek medical attention, you're dead. I roll the dice about a dozen times a day.
Each morning I do what all the other runners down here on Adam Street do: I lurk in the doorways, dodge the police, jones, and wait for addicts to drive up and buy their morning dose. Now Adam Street isn't safe. And only one rule counts -- the strong survive. The drug trafficking goes on all night long without a break. There's routine police surveillance, nothing big though. Every shift the cruiser drives by just to let us know they know. But for the most part the drug trade is in your face twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
I wasn't always a homeless, jobless, low-life heroin addict. Once I was a good kid, an altar boy for Farther Muldoon right here at St. Patrick's. I went to the YMCA as a young boy and played basketball, baseball, and football. And I was a pretty fair student -- but school bored me. I think it had something to do with the fact both my parents were teachers.
When I was thirteen, my family moved out of the Acre into the wealthiest section of Lowell: Belvedere. Dad wanted the best for his kids and the Irish no longer owned the Acre. All the old Irish families had moved to the suburbs or better sections of Lowell. The Farrells had become engulfed by "white flight." My dad said the Puerto Ricans would eventually overrun all of the good old Irish neighborhoods.
Our house was very modest compared to the houses on the hill behind us. The view from the back porch of our brand-new home was a sixty-room castle belonging to a billionaire, Mr. Lions. He lived with his wife, a chauffeur, two maids, a cook, and a groundskeeper. To the right of the castle was a forty-room-plus mansion owned by Dick Donahue, a former legal counsel to President Kennedy. He lived inside with a beautiful wife and eleven children. Every morning, I'd look out the bathroom window as I peed. No, we weren't in the Acre any more.
My brother Sean and I had it all -- friends, a giant yard in which to play tackle football, and five-speed bicycles. Sean was ten-and-a-half months older than me. We were Irish twins, born in the same year. I was born with cerebral palsy. Or that was what my parents had been led to believe.
Back in 1956, Doctor Griffin, a specialist at Children's Hospital in Boston told Dad I'd never be able to walk normally. I'd been a breech birth; my feet came through the birth canal first. The doctors told my father and mother that several minutes without oxygen had caused permanent damage. They said the muscles in my right arm and right leg would atrophy unless I exercised them daily. They said I had cerebral palsy. Dad couldn't accept any kid of his being a "cripple." He forced me to run everyday. And five days a week, I'd exercise with free weights in my basement -- just to be "normal." By the time I got to high school the sport headlines of the Lowell Sun read, "Crippled at Birth: Farrell Now Grid Star."
My parents were both teachers. Mom taught sixth grade at Edith Rodgers Junior High School in Lowell and doubled as a waitress, carrying trays in the evening at Valley's Steak House in Andover. Dad taught Honors English at Lowell High School, and every Tuesday and Thursday he taught English to the Puerto Ricans who had come here for a better life.
They both worked two jobs so Sean and I would have more than they'd had in the Acre. Sixty hours a week for each of them so we could live in a white split-level home with a brick front and two-car garage -- Dad's side had an automatic door opener -- all sitting on a quarter-acre of land in the best area of Lowell.
I cannot pinpoint any one incident that brought me back to Adam Street. I'm not entirely sure how I went from being a well-off Belvedere kid to a homeless addict. All my dad ever wanted out of me was to play football for the Fighting Irish at the University of Notre Dame. It was his dream that drove me from my early teens into my last year of high school. I became a football star for my Dad. But an illegal chop-block one Saturday afternoon in late fall ended that dream. My team was about to defeat the state champions. There was just under 2 minutes left on the clock. They had possession of the ball. My coach signaled me to blitz the quarterback, not allow him to set up and complete a long pass down field. I anticipated the snap of the ball, shot the gap, and was in their backfield untouched. But three things happened at the exact split-second: my left hand reached for the quarterbacks shoulder, my right foot planted firmly on the turf, and the helmet of the fullback trying to block my clear path cut out my right knee from the blind-side. Pop, like a giant overstretched elastic, the insides of my knee exploded.
After that day, I had seven knee operations to remove torn or floating cartilage, one operation after another, in an attempt to correct complications from the previous one. Those surgeries introduced me to prescribed pain medication. I fell in love with what those little pills accomplished inside my head. All my pain, emotional and physical, disappeared.
I had let my Dad down. I had let myself down. But it didn't matter while I was high on pain medication. My mornings began with pain pills and my days ended with them. I was physically and mentally addicted.
From there, my life aimlessly bounced around until I fell into an exploding real estate market of the early 80s. In no time at all, I was worth half-a-million dollars by the time I was twenty-one -- owned a two-family rental unit, a two-family owner-occupied in Belvedere, and an eight-acre farmhouse in Pelham. It seemed I had everything, and no excuses. But the injuries from football got me addicted to drugs, and the night I watched my father die, and everything else that happened, sent me on a path to heroin.
"Yo, yo! Heroin, cocaine. Dimes and nickels."
Ten or twelve Puerto Ricans surround an oversized, sparkling-green, new pick-up truck. I just sit, too dope-sick to fight through the crowd. At this point I know my addiction is overtaking me. No longer can I get by on shooting two or three bags a day. Now I need a bag of heroin every two to three hours just to keep my muscles from cramping into a thousand small knots. Everybody's pushing and shoving to be the first to sell a bag. The competition is cutthroat. You see, the dealers sitting comfortably upstairs in the houses give us a free bag of heroin for every five bags we sell. A bundle of heroin, ten bags, cost the dealers $100 bucks. The runners sell it on the streets for $30 a bag. I once saw a guy stabbed smack-dab in the middle of his eye in a pushing match to sell a $30 bag.
"Richie Farrell? I'm looking for Richie Farrell!" A little round squash of a head pops out the window of the truck. A white guy.
"Richie, man, the man axen for youse," one of the junkies yells.
I stand up in the doorway, a little shaky. My eyes don't want to focus.
"Beaver?" My eyes adjust slowly to the light. "You crazy bastard. What you coming down here for?"
Robert Billson is his real name. He's maybe fifty-five, a skinny, bald, tough little prick with pointy buckteeth. He played hockey at Boston University and then some professional in Canada. He and my dad taught together at Lowell High; that's how I know him.
I know why he's come and I'm kind of glad to see him. But I have to act for the boys. I have to pretend I'm angry. This is my turf, my life, and Beaver's new truck and white skin threaten my survival.
Beaver is a born-again Christian, but not really. I mean he believes in Jesus Christ and all, but swears like a Hell's Angel. He's the complete opposite of what you think a born-again Christian would be. Beaver is more like a guy you'd meet on the corner barstool of a local bar complaining about everything that's wrong in the world. His wife, Inga, is Norwegian and the sweetest person I know besides my mom.
He has two grown sons. I'm convinced that after my dad died two years ago, Beaver took me on as some kind of penance for the sins he committed raising them. He and my Dad were a lot alike really, cut from the same cloth. Both of them could explode in an instant. One second you'd see a saint; blink your eyes and there'd be Lucifer.
"Richie, I'm going to a meeting and wanted to bring you!"
"A meeting," I say. "What kinda meeting?"
"Meeting!" Somebody in the crowd begins to taunt.
"Well, it's just a bunch of people sitting around talking."
Beaver looks a little nervous. I have to figure a way to get us out of here without him getting robbed and still be cool.
"No, no thanks. No meeting, but you can buy me some food and a beer."
I wink at Beaver and walk swiftly to the passenger door. It's cool to go with somebody for food. The Spanish churches in the area always come by with their vans, pick up a group of us, take us back to their churches, and preach the gospel while their women feed us. I can't understand a lick of Spanish, but the rice and beans are good.
Somebody kicks the side panel of the truck and an almost-empty beer can bounces on the seat of the cab behind us. Beaver's face tenses; he shoots glances from one side to the other.
"Drive," I say in a careful but determined voice.
"Those fuckin' scumbags. Who the fuck do those no-good scum-sucking cowards think they are?" Beaver says driving away.
I want to tell him, Beaver, one of them killed two men in Puerto Rico, the other raped a twelve-year-old girl, and another cut out a white guy's tongue for calling him an asshole. But I don't. It's just not good for your health to talk about these things to anybody.
"Beaver, you gotta be careful down here," I say. "These ain't nice people. Where we going?"
"Church, man," Beaver's eyes begin to smile. "Praise the Lord!"
"Sure, Beaver, Alleluia."
Beaver reaches for a tape on the seat next to him and jams it into the deck, some holy music. It makes me sick. My head starts to pound, like a balloon inside is expanding and contracting.
"We are a new generation, the chosen people." Beaver sings off-key, making it twice as hard to listen.
The church is in Littleton, a suburb southeast of Lowell, a half hour drive away. Am I glad when we pull into the parking lot. I'm so car sick, the nausea is starting to overtake me. The moment the door opens I puke my most recent beer all over the side of Beaver's new radial tires.
Beaver lets me use his handkerchief, and then I follow him to the door, down the back stairs, and into the basement. Shit, more singing. Only this time there are twenty or thirty white people who look just like Beaver. Fine-looking people who just have something in their eyes, something that says, "I'm not all there."
"Sit down up front, Richie," Beaver says.
No, no, I can't sit up front. But I do anyway -- right next to Beaver. This lady, about seventy, with jet-black hair stands right in front of me banging and shaking a tambourine. Inside my head, it sounds like whips snapping against my eardrums. Every couple of minutes, between songs, she wipes away a line of black sweat dripping down her forehead. I can't tell whether she uses shoe polish for hair dye or whether her face is just dirty. My eyes can't focus on the others. I try, but I just want to crawl up inside my ass and die.
Finally, it stops and Beaver walks up to the front and stands silently while he reads his Bible. Nobody speaks. I think about running for the door. But I'm too sick, so I pray to the God I had learned about at St. Patrick's School.
"Please God. Get me the fuck out of here," I say quietly.
"Praise the Lord," Beaver yells.
"Praise the Lord," the people yell back.
The bells in my head start to ring again. Somehow I know God isn't going to answer my prayer.
"Alleluia! Alleluia!" they volley back and forth for what seems like ten minutes. Every once in a while I hear an, "Alleluia, Jesus!" And then they start another round of "Praise the Lord." The old lady starts jumping up and down, and a round guy with a short-cropped, gray crew cut strums on an old wooden guitar. His horned-rimmed glasses are too small for his head and sit halfway down his earlobes.
"Stand up, brother," somebody says.
But by this time, I can't see a thing and I'm bent over in a fetal position. I don't know who grabs my arm and pulls me to my feet. It just comes, the moment I stand up. Projectile vomit.
"Praise the Lord!" the old lady shouts.
Beaver comes to my aid with a towel somebody has thrown him. I open my eyes long enough to see the guitar player trying desperately to wipe my puke from his strings.
"Please, please," I try to speak.
"Come on, brothers and sisters," Beaver says. "Extend your right hand to this young man. Let's come against those demons, in the name of the Lord."
One more time they chant. The room starts to spin and the whole joint smells like regurgitated beer. I fight not to vomit, gulping and dry heaving. They pray so hard they don't hear me scream, "Shut the fuck up." The old lady just keeps smiling and wiping away the rivulets of black running down her face. All I remember is losing everything, feeling like my guts are coming out of my mouth, and then I hit the floor. God has answered my prayers--everything goes black.
I wake up three feet from the ceiling in somebody's top bunk. I could swear my Aunt Phyllis has just left the room; it's weird, like when you aren't sure whether you're in a dream or reality. Aunt Phyllis was blood. She gave me my first blowjob when I was twelve. She's dead now, but I often dream of her lips.
"Good morning." It's Beaver's wife, Inga. I guess I've been dreaming. I have no idea how long Inga has been in the bedroom watching me sleep.
"Where's Beaver?" I ask.
"He's in the prayer closet, Richie. He's been praying for you all night. You've been quite sick. You've slept almost an entire day."
"The prayer closet? Where's that?" I ask, climbing out of bed and jumping to the floor.
Inga is tall and stately looking with a jaw that reminds me of Kirk Douglas's. She's in her early fifties. The gray in her hair has turned it a different shade of blonde. And even after twenty years in this country, she still has a Norwegian accent. I start to get dizzy as the blood rushes from my head. Inga grabs me and holds me close. I see real motherly compassion in her eyes. But she's also extremely good-looking. I'm thirty and right now twenty years isn't so far apart.
"Are you okay, brother?" Beaver says, dashing into the room.
I move away from Inga quickly, a little embarrassed, void of any thoughts or feelings. Beaver just takes my arm, helps me down the corridor, and sits me comfortably at the kitchen table, where coffee, juice, and pastries are already waiting for me.
"Come on, Richie, eat. You'll feel better," he says.
I want to but can't. My body beginning to jones again. My gut wants a nice rainbow bag of heroin, not cheese Danish, cranberry nut bread, or croissants. I sip the coffee and the orange juice, which hurts the back of my throat.
"Can I call your wife, Richie?" Beaver asks. "Let her know you're okay? Where you are?"
"Na, na," I say anxiously. "She don't give a fuck. Oops, sorry."
Inga snickers and tries to say something, but Beaver cuts her off. I swear she's going to make a joke about Beaver's foul mouth. He is the only one allowed to use that language in the sanctity of his house. Everybody else who cusses is a sinner.
"Richie," Beaver says seriously, "your wife loves you. She is just very, very hurt by your actions."
"Fuck her." I grunt. "Oh, shit."
I've done it again, slipped up. I don't even think about it. Inga bursts into laughter and has to leave the kitchen. Beaver's squash turns pink and his lips pucker.
"Come on, now. Don't be an asshole," he says in a coaching way.
"Beaver, do me a favor. You're a great guy. I appreciate everything you're trying to do for me. But leave her out of it."
I can feel myself getting hot. The muscles in my calves begin to spasm, and if they could talk they'd be crying for heroin. I have to make a plan, otherwise I'll soon be dope sick and nobody will be safe.
When I get dope sick, I turn violent. And I'm scared where that violence could drive me. First a cold sweat turns the hair on the back of my neck into a dripping mop. Then I get cramps in my stomach, aching mad, screaming for somebody to help. A knot twists my calf muscles into a gnarly ball on each step. Tighter, tighter -- holding, squeezing my sphincter muscles so I don't shit all over myself. And the whole time knowing that giving in will end the riveting, twisting, gnawing fire in my large intestine.
"Why, Richie? Why leave her out? She's your wife, the mother of your children."
Beaver's preaching now, getting defiant. Just like my Dad. I remember a Good Friday when I was eighteen. I'd just come home from a workout at the YMCA. Only moments before, Dad had woken from his daily afternoon nap. He was tired and grumpy -- sitting at the kitchen table eating ginger snaps and chasing them down with Moxie, a tonic Dad always said you needed to acquire a taste for. But I never understood how anybody would want to learn how to drink something that was comparable to mixing molasses and kerosene. I opened the refrigerator door without speaking -- nobody talked to Dad unless he talked first.
"You go to confession?" he grunted.
"No, I believe my sins are between me and God," I responded, gulping from a gallon of Lipton iced tea.
I was stupid. I'd let my guard down. You never took Dad out of your peripheral vision. Seconds later he tackled me on the kitchen floor. We wrestled for a good five minutes. He wanted to murder me over Catholic ideology. Each time he swung the Moxie bottle at my head, it spilled suds all over my favorite Fighting Irish T-shirt.
Beaver's ranting and raging forces me to remember who I really am. Now I have the excuse I need to inject a bag of heroin into my bloodstream -- to kill the pain of remembering that I've let down my family. Each sip of coffee is just a reason to scan the room, looking for something, anything small I can slip into my pocket. Something I can pawn that'll be worth thirty bucks.
"Please, Beaver," I say. "I don't want her knowing nothing. She's outta my life."
And the kids too?" he asks.
That hurts. I love my two boys and I hate my wife, Louise, even more because she can have them. I cry every morning and evening when I think of them and I'm not high enough to forget.
"Well?" I shrug. "Life sucks, right, coach?"
Right there in front of me, with Jesus hanging on the cross off the kitchen wall, Beaver goes ballistic. He throws a half-drunk coffee toward the sink, splashing coffee all over the red-checked wallpaper.
"You stupid motherfucker. You don't get it, do you, son? You hate, son. You need the Lord Jesus Christ to fill your heart with love. Don't you understand, asshole? He's the only one who can free you of that bondage of hate and heroin. You must die and be born again!"
Beaver jumps up, runs to the sliding glass door, and almost separates the door from the runner. He pushes the screen out trying to open it and takes off, as if he knows he has to get out of there or he'll kill me.
I guess the Holy Spirit has changed Beaver. My Dad would have punched me in the face. I don't even look up. The guy might be out of control, but he's the least of my worries. I'm jonesing big time and any minute now all the rules are going to change. Anything and everything is fair game.
The bathroom is the first place to visit. Every house has leftover pain medication. Nine times out of ten, somebody's gotten hurt once and the doctor's prescribed Percodan or even Tylenol with codeine. Sane people, most of them, follow the directions: take one every four hours for pain or as needed. In that case, there's always some left over in the medicine cabinet. The pills are my only answer. They'll calm the jones so I won't do anything bad. They'll save me, Beaver, and Inga until I get a bag of smack. I figure if Beaver is anything like my Dad, I have about twenty minutes before he turns back into a quiet, loving man again.
I hear the shower running when I'm halfway down the corridor to the bathroom. The door to the bathroom is open. I have to take the chance. Inga sings softly but loud enough to cover my footsteps. I'm in luck; she has the water scolding hot. The steam is so thick it forms a large cloud that seems to swallow the solid glass door. I'm safe. I cannot see her so I know Inga won't be able to see me.
The medicine closet over the sink doesn't squeak. My eyes scan it quickly as Inga's voice sounds like an angel's behind me. If Beaver comes back, I'm dead. Shit, a hit. I slip a bottle of Percosets gingerly into my hand. I don't bother risking shutting the door, just glide gracefully out into the corridor. There are six pills left out of twenty-four. Jackpot. I pour a glass of water at the kitchen sink, see Beaver heading out of the shed in his backyard, swallow all six, and hide the empty bottle behind a cookie jar on the counter.
"Richie!" Beaver begins fixing the screen back on the runners. "Still sitting in the kitchen?"
I swallow a few gulps of cold coffee and nod my head as I watch him trying to bend the bottom runner back so it will line up with the screen. Inga has returned in a pair of white tennis shorts and a T-shirt. Her hair is wrapped in a towel. She cleans the table, smiling and singing the same tune.
"Richie, I've been thinking and praying out there." Beaver has finished the door and pulls a chair next to me at the table.
I nod, waiting both for him and the Percs to kick in.
"Richie, first I must apologize for my behavior. Okay?"
I know what's coming. Standard script in lunatics. My dad was the best at it. He was an English teacher, brilliant at manipulating language to deflect the awfulness of violent deeds he'd committed against his family. Like the day he caught me thumbing a ride when I was fourteen. He used duct tape to tie me to a kitchen chair and cut me with Mom's electric carving knife, because he "loved me." Said there were a lot of bad people in the world. Wanted me to know what the "boogie man" would do to me if he picked me up thumbing.
"But God just spoke to me out in that garden shed," Beaver says.
Inga stops the water to listen but doesn't turn. Beaver has trained her well -- just like my mom. When Dad spoke the Red Sea parted.
I wait, praying silently for bells to go off in my head, for that rush of adrenaline when the Percosets hit my heart.
"Richie, God told me that you need to know him. He said you need to ask Him into your heart and ask Him to set you free of the double H: heroin and hatred!"
Just then, at that precise moment, my prayers are answered. The Percs kick in. A direct hit to the heart. Alleluia! My fingers and toes tingle, adrenaline races up and down my spinal cord. My eyes seem to float inside my head and nothing else matters. The Percs do the job but they surely can't match the heroin rush. Nothing can. Heroin is like licking the breath of God.
"Richie?" Beaver asks. "Would you like to ask Jesus Christ into your heart? Would you like to die and be born again?"
Inga turns and walks close to the table. At that moment, I don't care how many times I'm born. She's extremely sexy, I'm high, and I don't have to feel anything. I think she knows I find her attractive.
"Sure, man. What do I gotta do?"
In a quick sick instant, I hope it has something to do with climbing back into the womb. Maybe I can go back and fix everything I've fucked up. Do it right. But it's only a flash, and somehow I know that won't work.
"Well, brother," Beaver says, "just say a few words."
I start thinking, Wow, magic words, man. That's what I need--magic! But actually, nothing matters to me right now except how to keep this buzz going, how to stay like I am at this very second--without a feeling or care in the world.
"Sure, I'll say the words."
Inga spins around and reaches slowly for my shoulder. Her fingers are so warm and soothing to the touch. Beaver stands up and starts pacing around the table. I want to start laughing. I always smile or laugh when I'm nervous. But something makes me think of Dad and the night I killed him--his face,
the instant he died, his bluish-green glowing skin, and his crimson-red blood-filled eyes. I start to cry.
"Praise the Lord! Rejoice in His Name!" Beaver shouts.
"Oh, yes, Father God, thank you, Jesus," Inga whispers with conviction.
"Are you ready, brother? Do you want to be set free?" Beaver asks.
"Yes," I manage through the tears.
"All right, Richie," Beaver says. "Just say what I say. That's all you have to do."
I can't hold back the image of my Dad there on the kitchen floor, the single teardrop slowly forging its way down his cheek. The Percosets aren't strong enough. I feel like my insides are leaching out through my tears.
"Jesus, I'm a sinner and I need you to run my life."
"Jesus, I'm a sinner," I repeat. "Please help me."
"Alleluia, Jesus." Inga begins to cry.
"Jesus, come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit," Beaver continues.
"Jesus, I need your spirit," I reply.
And that's it. Something splashes across my face. A gust of country air bursts into the room and moves the wind chimes hanging on the wall ever so slightly. It feels like hot oil running across my chest, moving slowly down my stomach. It burns. In an instant, I feel straight. Shit scared. My eyes open wide. Beaver starts laughing, like he knows what's going on. Inga says something, but I can't hear her. I stand, thinking maybe I can outrun whatever is happening to me.
"Oshka belgh haver opsa shennna goosgkle jubler crumster domenisca," I shout.
"Come Holy Spirit," Beaver screams, hysterically.
Every cell in my body tingles. And then, somehow, I leave my body. Or I just can't feel the weight of it. I know it's there, but it's as if all I have is a brain. Memories of my dad race across whatever space I'm in, as if they are happening at that instant: my childhood, my brother Sean, football, Dad's funeral, all of it crashing through me in a split second. Then, the feelings come back in just my fingers. Somebody is choking me. I can't swallow or breathe. Beaver continues smiling and Inga cries.
"Help me!" I beg.
"Keep going, brother," Beaver says. "Don't worry, it's only the Holy Spirit."
"Praise You, Jesus Christ. He's been touched by Your Spirit," Inga yells.
Somehow I pick myself up off the kitchen floor. My T-shirt is soaked through with a sweet-rancid body odor. I feel good, like every tear has wiped away years and years of bad memories. It's like being locked up, released, and then running full-speed into an endless green field filled with bright, yellow daisies. There are so many new feelings, I don't know which one to explore first. Something truly has happened to me, but have I been touched by the Holy Spirit or the Percosets? Maybe it was a combination of a Higher Power and an opiate derivative.
"You're free, Richie!" Beaver speaks, interrupting my reverie.
"The Holy Spirit set you free, Richie!" Inga says.
"Yeah, but what the hell was that language? What came out of my mouth?
"You spoke in tongues, Richie!" Beaver says, clapping his hands and dancing around the kitchen.
I don't really care if they're telling the truth. All I know is that something inside of me feels different, as if it's a spring afternoon, the birds and flowers are singing praises to the end of winter and I'm standing under a waterfall. I feel cleansed. My mind stops spinning. I feel secure for the first time in years, but is it real? Will it last?
"Richie?" Beaver asks. "You want to go tell your wife?"
I don't even have to think twice. What do I have to lose?
hen, in the bathroom, while I'm splashing cold water on my face to clean up for my visit to Louise, I see Inga's solid 14-karat gold charm bracelet with her children's birthstones. And I have no choice really. I have to take it.
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