In The Market for God
It’s the decisions that ruin it for me.
Buying a drink, I wonder what I will enjoy more. An orange Vitamin Water or an Orange Gatorade? Cherry Coke or Dr. Pepper? I imagine myself sipping, tasting, saying “aah.”
Two months ago I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God. A few weeks later I changed my mind.
My usual decision is Yellow Vitamin Water. It is the only sports drink which contains caffeine. It’s the only one that gives me that boost. It tastes like fruity soap and I have gotten used to it. I will keep the bottle for water. There are already half a dozen of them in my room. Somehow I am convinced they will all become useful to me.
I wasn’t always in the market for a God, but events in my life convinced me I might need one.
“It doesn’t always happen in one moment,” they told me in the program. “A spiritual awakening can come slowly.”
So I believed them.
They let you choose your own God in Narcotics Anonymous. All they recommend is that it be loving. I had some difficulty with that. In order to choose God I had to choose to be loved. All at once I realized how long I had chosen not to be.
A routine is supposed to help. Pray in the morning, pray at night. A ritualistic setting of intentions. I couldn’t wrap my stomach around it. A counselor told me he used to jump up in fright whenever someone walked in on him praying. That I could understand. I always feel ashamed when I’m caught in the act of reverence.
Whenever I pray all I can think about is how stupid the voice in my head sounds.
Walking home I catch myself thinking about Dana. The Vitamin Water is half empty. It swings in my hand like a bomb. The street is lined with dandelion stumps that have started to shrivel up. I look at the sky and tried to think about God. Instead, Dana’s face erupts into my mind and I think: “You’re a pathological liar. You have an untreated mental illness. And I don’t want anyone else.”
I recently terminated my friendship with Dana. The goal of the decision was to stop thinking about her. Had I known it wouldn’t work I might have saved myself the friend, and the effort. I round the corner and cross the street to the gas station. I withdraw twenty dollars from an ATM and quietly tell myself that things will get better.
A therapist told me in rehab, “When you talk to yourself, use the voice you would use to talk to a kitten or a puppy. Be gentle with yourself, and kind.”
So I direct the voices in my head at other people. I imagine whole conversations until I realize it’s been hours since I’ve spoken.
I feel most at ease speaking in front of a crowd. You can gauge their reaction collectively, by the grunts and sighs and shuffling feet. Say what you will about 12-step meetings, but the therapeutic value of a captive audience is undeniable. It’s an open mic night for feelings. Most people get nervous when they speak, but not me. I like to watch the room absorb my words. They disappear as I speak into a faceless mass that will swallow and forget them. It’s not at all like the way words hit a friend and well up in her eyes, and you wonder, did I do that?
I get home and call a guy from NA so he’ll talk me out of buying weed. I have ninety minutes before class and twenty dollars in my pocket. We chat for a few minutes, then he asks me about my God situation.
I explain that I chose beauty in rehab. It seemed less cliché than love. After a while it ceased to work, and I had to go further. I decided that beauty was an expression of all the positive forces in the world, and ugliness an aspect of the negative. As I pour out this monologue, I can feel myself berating myself. It’s the best I can do with words, and I’m convinced that I’m lying.
“I have to do what makes me more beautiful,” I tell him. “That’s what God wants.”
He advises me to take a walk. That’s what he’s doing. I say it helps just to talk.
“I’m glad you called me,” he says. “I needed to talk too.”
This is one of those coincidences that recovering addicts love to attribute to God. But I’m not lenient enough with myself to say I’m “recovering.”
We talk for long enough that I no longer have time to get high and come down in time for class. So I hang up the phone and take a quick nap instead.
When I wake up I feel like I’m at the bottom of a ravine. I should have fed myself when I bought the drink. But two decisions in one trip is too much. There is nothing in my body.
Sometimes I wish I could get hit by a bus. Not killed, just grazed. Enough to keep me in bed for a few weeks.
Then no one would worry if I was happy or successful or sober. They’d just say, “he got hit by a bus and lived, what a lucky guy.”
This is my idea of God’s mercy.
I wanted to tell this thought to Dana, but I had denied myself the option. I shared it at a meeting instead. Many people agreed that it would be quite pleasant to be divinely incapacitated. They’d had similar thoughts themselves. I was understood, but not as I wanted to be.
It’s the difference between getting a laugh from a whole room full of people, and getting a laugh from the one person in the room whose opinion means the most to you. More should be better, but it’s not.
Dana would understand that.
What I miss most about Dana is her perception. It was a warm blanket over my frayed nerves. Never mind how frayed hers were. My idea of a good conversation is one where you know the other person is staring at the same patch of ground as you. We spent hours staring at her floor. She knew how to be safe. It mostly involved not moving.
It’s nice to sit with someone who’s as preoccupied with their own death as you are.
In bed, I take a swig of water from a bottle that once held yellow Vitamin Water. I have come to think of drinking as changing water. Like I’m a car in need of an oil change. My water’s gone stagnant.
I call eating “feeding myself.” I think, “I need to feed myself today.”
These are terms I use in my mind. Attempts to integrate them into conversation have failed. But I am determined to find a person with whom I can use my own words, or at least a deity.
There is a prayer in Narcotics Anonymous that begins, “Take my will and my life.”
It’s part of this thing called the third step. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” There are twelve steps in total and the third is where a lot of people give up.
Before I did my third step saying this prayer was a constant source of guilt. I seemed to be saying it with my fingers crossed behind my back, or silently shoving in the word “don’t” at the beginning.
Once I’d decided to commit to the God premise, the prayer became invigorating. It was like wedding vows. Only they weren’t for life, just for now. The words grew stronger in my mouth each time I said them, and lost most of their potency once spoken.
I thought God would leave me alone once I started getting high again. But some decisions are easier to take back than others.
The last time I saw Dana I told her I was in love with her and I couldn’t make it stop. Then I went to the store and spent fifteen minutes picking out a bag of chips. I think it hurt her worse than me.
I Was Masturbating in a Public Restroom
I was masturbating in a public restroom which I believed to be empty when a man poked his head over the wall of the neighboring stall and asked me what I was doing.
Intent on maintaining my privacy, I replied, “nothing,” an answer which did not satisfy him.
“You don’t come into a place like this to do nothing,” he said.
I responded by asking what he was doing, since “nothing” was clearly off the menu.
“I’m tryin’ to take a dump, but wouldn’tcha know it, I’m out of toilet paper. You wouldn’t happen to have some in your stall, wouldja?”
“I’m sorry but I only got a few shreds left to myself and I need them to catch my jizz.”
It was a dingy park bathroom, the kind that only gets cleaned or re-stocked once a year, if that.
“Aaaah, so you’re jerkin’ it!” he replied in a tone of immense satisfaction. “I get it now! The heck’re you doin’ somethin’ like that for in here?”
“I’ve got a bus to catch. Figured I’d do something nice for myself before I leave.”
“Let me ask you something,” said the man, whose hands still clutched at the green plastic barrier. “How’doya make do without any porn.”
“It’s easy,” I said. “I just use my imagination.”
“Really?” the man trilled incredulously. “I can’t do that, nosir, never could. I just can’t never imagine anybody nekkid, you see? Had me a real holy upbringing and it musta messed with my head, ‘cause every time I try to picture myself a nekkid lady in my mind’s eye, I find myself blurrin’ out her titties and her privates with some of them censorship circles, ya know?”
“Well, that’s awful decent of you,” I said.
“Sometimes if I push real hard, I can get rid of them censors, but then when I do it’s all like Barbie parts and them titties with no nipples and that just don’t do it for me no sir.”
The man’s hands slid from the stall divider and I heard the sound of ass cheeks pressing against porcelain.
“Really?” I asked, drawn into the conversation in spite of myself. “Because I can’t help but imagine people naked. Whenever I’m walking down the street, man, it’s everyone, not just the hot chicks and the pretty girls, but old ladies too. And dudes. Dudes, walking around with their wing-dings out. Old dudes, ugly fuckin’ dudes, and I can’t stand it. It’s like a curse.”
“Well I sure wish we could switch curses,” said the man in the neighboring stall. “Sometimes I can’t even see my own wanger. Right now, for instance. I’m sittin’ over here on toppova big pool of my own excrement, and there’s a big black bar hoverin’ over my peener.”
By this point my erection had deteriorated considerably. The man returned to his business, and I attempted to return to mine, but it wasn’t long before his voice chimed in again.
“So, uh, you reckon you’re gonna finish any time soon? 'Cause I could really use them scraps of TP if yer not. I been trapped here a couplea hours already, so if you could make a run to the bodega and grab me a roll.”
“Well you’re not making it any easier for me to get this done with,” I replied.
“Aw shit you’re right aintcha. Here--” the man tossed a bottle of ranch dressing under the divider. “Have some lube.”
I wasn’t exactly too keen on slathering my weiner in buttermilk ranch, but the appearance of the dressing reminded me that I had a cone of french fries tucked into my breast pocket. I poured some ranch on them and ate in silence for a while, then the man spoke again.
“Let me ask you somethin’” he said. “If you’re really so imaginative, then what’dya reckon my peener looks like, huh?”
I was completely flaccid by this point so I decided to humor him.
“Uh, well. It’s probably about average size. Nah, maybe a bit below average. With some good-sized veins. And, uh, from the tone of your voice, I bet you’re circumcised. You can always tell.”
Any second now this guy would be coming over the stall wall to ring my neck.
“Right on all counts!” he crowed from the neighboring stall. “That’s quite a talent you got there. Say-- could you take a look at this girl I like and find out if she shaves her pooter? I’m tryina make an informed decision.”
“Look, I don’t really--”
“Say no more, pardner, say no more. You don’t wanna go invadin’ no one’s privacy.”
The man peeped his head over the wall again. I put my hands in my lap.
“But say-- couldya do me one last favor there pal? Could I maybe get a snap of your peener? Ta help with the imaginin’ n’ such?”
“No!” I yelled with surprising force.
“Aw come on! I already show’d ya mine, so to speak.”
“I think that’s a bit of a stretch--”
“Look, I’m askin for your help brother. That’s all. ‘Tain’t nothin’ gay about it or nothin’ unless that’s your-- to each his own. But it’d help me out with my mind problems. Give me somethin’ to visualize when I’m out there. Like a good luck charm. If I had me a nice polaroid of your peener to carry ‘round, maybe I wouldn’t have to go seein’ all them censorship bars.”
“Yeah man! I ain’t gonna make you go snappin’ your peener on no cell phone where Uncle Sam can get in and take a look at it. Shit’s for real you know.”
He raised his eyebrows, then disappeared behind the wall. I heard him rustling in his pockets. A few seconds later a polaroid camera slid under the barrier.
“Just one good snap, man. I ain’t askin for no fancy angles or whatnot.”
I wasn’t exactly into the idea, but I’ve always had a thing for antique technology, and I was dying to give that Polaroid a go. So I picked up the camera.
“There ya go brother, that’s it. Dontcha fret. I ain’t about to go jerkin’ it to ya or nothin’. Seems that’s more your thing than mine,” he chuckled. “No pun intended.”
I figured at this point the only thing that’d shut this guy up would be the sound of a camera shutter, so I positioned the Polaroid above the toilet bowl and clicked it. The picture slid out and I shook it dry. My penis looked even more bizarre on film than it did in person. I was mildly horrified. I slid the picture and the camera back over to the neighboring stall. A few seconds later I heard an ecstatic whoop.
“It’s gone! The bar over my peener’s gone! You saved me mister!”
He held up the Polaroid triumphantly over the stall wall.
“I’m gonna git outta here right this minute and start imagining this here peener onto every man, woman an’ child that I set eyes on.”
He left his stall, neglecting to flush or wipe, and tore out of the bathroom.
I decided to resume my previous activity and found, to my surprise, that I was harder than ever.