by Dan Dillard
The first question had been simple.
“How are you today?” she asked.
The woman in her short, black dress was half my age, writing for a magazine I didn’t read, but it had a very large circulation and a popular website.
“Fine,” I said. “I’m truly fine. It took me a long time to get here, but I’m finally comfortable with me, glad to be here.”
It had been a long road for me.
She smiled, knowing something about what I had been through. Abusive upbringing followed by my own problems with alcohol, and then the drugs. Rehab had been my church, writing my savior. Finally, I had that one heartfelt piece everyone was identifying with. Fans. I had fans, herds of people on my side, sending me words of encouragement. And then, there I was, being interviewed about my life.
My existence to that point had felt insignificant, so much so that I almost declined the conversation. Almost gave up the opportunity.
She patted me on the knee and then her smiling face turned inquisitive.
“What brought you here?”
I was confused at first. Jokingly, I said, “A taxi.”
She didn’t bat an eye. “No, I mean, to this point. How did you become the man who wrote this story?”
“Life. I spent the first forty years living one hell of a life. It was violent, depressing, and it had worn me down, almost to the point of calling it quits. Then I met someone, who will remain nameless as she doesn’t like all the attention. She found me passed out in a parking lot, leaning on the steering wheel of my car. She took me to the hospital and then stood by me as my sponsor.”
Mary was her name. She was my angel, an older woman who pushed me to do the right thing. She gave me my life back and made sure I kept it with surprise visits and phone calls to check in.
“And then?” she asked.
And then… Mary died, and I’ve been on my own, but making it.
“And then, I decided to write about it. To let it out and essentially capture it in writing, so I could hold on to it. I wasn’t planning on publishing, didn’t think it would ever get read, but there it is.”
“Congratulations on the success you’ve found.”
“Thank you. It’s never too late, I guess.”
She sipped some water and jotted a note on her pad. Then she adjusted the digital recorder, moving it just a bit on the table. I was quite taken with her custom painted fingernails. Skulls. I’d never seen anything like it. Excessive black eye makeup showed off her brilliant eyes.
“Tell me about the heroin?”
It took me aback. Abrupt, personal…
“Can we just point folks to the book?”
“You don’t like those details?” she asked.
“Well, no. It’s not something I would like to relive.”
“So, there’s no chance of falling back into that life?”
“Well, I know there’s a chance. I’m an addict, but I’m working day by day to stay clean, and I’ve got a good life and support to keep me on the right path.”
She smirked and noted something else. Perhaps it was my agitation, or the sweat that was beading up on my forehead.
“What about the family you left behind?”
Again, abrupt and unexpected. I lit a cigarette and felt myself shutting down, no longer ready to talk, regretting my decision.
“I was told this interview was to be upbeat, about the recovery and not...”
Her expression was frustration mixed with calm. She’d obviously handled many interviews and I was not a challenge.
“Well, we have to establish where you were before we can get to where you are.”
It made sense, and it put me somewhat at ease. I danced around the issue.
“I was a train wreck and she left with my son. It was the best decision for them both. We still talk. I have access to my child and he is doing well.”
I hoped that ended the line of questioning. Her eyes searched my face, looking for a break. I thought I saw a glimmer in one of them.
“You’ve said in your book that your childhood was filled with violence. Your father was a hard drinker and he molested and abused you.”
Another slap in the face.
“I never said he molested me.”
She checked her notes with an a-ha-but-you-did look on her face.
“But he used to call you his sweet baby. He’d breathe heavy in your ear when he did those things. Love, he called it. Love smelled like whiskey and cigar breath, sweat and aftershave. It felt like pain, didn’t it?”
They were thoughts I’d pushed out of my head. Things I had never spoken of. The book mentioned beatings and constant verbal abuse, but not the other. No one knew about that.
“I think this interview is over,” I said.
“Yes. It is time for you to get back.”
“Back?” I said.
I watched her face swirl into the background. The skulls on her fingernails and her severe eyes the last to disappear. A younger man’s face was there instead. His face was round with small-framed, square glasses. An EMT. Ambulance lights flashed behind him.
“How long has he been flatlined?” he asked.
The answer was fuzzy, fading into some background buzz that grew like a mosquito flying closer and closer to my ear.
I saw Mary standing on the sidewalk. She shook her head in disappointment. I realized the interview was a dream, as was the book, as was any life outside of the drugs. But the buzzing was real, the fading world was real.