The Sober Truth
By Ron Ciancutti
Nate was tired, tired in a way only a certain segment of people understood, people like farmers, heavy laborers, and private construction workers who can’t afford the best equipment. His hands ached from gripping the ice-cold tools of his trade all winter. He’d worn leather gloves the first few years, but his mitts were now so calloused and thick he couldn’t remember the last time he bothered to “protect” his skin; it was more like animal hide anymore.
The stove in the little shop roared away, keeping the steel red-hot, waiting to be forged into custom horseshoes. Sure, the blaze threw an intense heat into the tin building, but the winter winds still blew through every unplugged seam of the structure. How welcome those little breezes would be later when the sweaty mare that was chained inside with him would lean on his back as he stood beneath her and lifted one leg to measure for a new set of shoes. It was back-breaking, smelly, hot work, but that had long since stopped bothering Nate.
The Same Routine
Everything he did, every task he performed was simply a means to a few more dollars so he could pay the rent and afford the Ramen noodle and macaroni-and-cheese diet that sustained him. And, of course, the whiskey and Cokes that soothed his soul most evenings. The residence motel he lived in fortunately had a small bar at one end. At capacity, maybe 30 people could be packed in there, but the kitchen served a decent burger, and Ed the bartender had a generous pour. Typically, the same 15 “regulars” wandered in after dark and contemplated life, sharing their stories and misfortunes. The common thread always seemed to be one particular tragedy that led to their demise. Something unplanned had gone terribly wrong. If not for that, then life would have been a breeze. It’s the standard lament of those who simply stop trying.
When the televised basketball game ended, Ed snapped off the set that hung above the bar next to the hanging dried meat sticks that had been absorbing cigarette smoke for years and said, “Drink ‘em up boys—I’m shutting it down.” Nate quietly complied as on most nights and nodded to Ed, who mixed him one more in a Styrofoam cup, added a lid, and then scraped the bills off the bar where Nate had left them, including a generous tip. Hell, Ed was no different than he was: “Man’s got a right to make a living.”
“G’nite, Eddie,” Nate mumbled as he navigated to a standing position and wandered to the door.
“Nite, Nate,” Eddie said, shaking his head as he wiped down the bar.
When Nate stepped outside, the cold slapped him, and he shivered deeply into his thin coat. It was only 47 steps to the front door of his motel room, and most nights he thanked God for that. He fumbled with the key, slipped inside, and locked the door behind him. He flipped the wall switch, and the remaining good bulb in the four-socket overhead lamp popped on dimly. He pulled the cord on the little lamp hanging over the table, and the room immediately seemed warmer. In the little efficiency kitchen in the corner, empty grease-stained pizza boxes and Styrofoam carriers lined the sink, but thankfully there were still a few ice cubes left in the freezer, and Nate freshened the whiskey and Coke that Ed had so graciously packed for him. Now, that was better. He slumped into the swivel chair and turned the radio on. Nothing depressed him more than country music, but he let it play anyway; it took him lower than he already was. He glanced around the room—the little hotplate, the one burner with the teapot on it, empty cigarette cartons, other miscellaneous grocery strewn about, half a box of stale doughnuts, a jar of salted peanuts left open and now spoiled. He lit a cigarette.
The school picture of his smiling 14-year-old daughter that under some tire-shop refrigerator magnet stared at him. He squinted to make her face out in the darkness. “I’m sorry, Jenny,” he suddenly whispered. “I didn’t mean for it to turn out this way.” The music swelled as did the apple in Nate’s throat, and he put his head down on the table and sobbed. He cried for the life he’d given up on. He cried for the man he used to be. He cried for the better life his ex-wife was living now with a solid, reliable mate. Nate cried when he remembered how she once begged him to change, but he had laughed her off. He felt the arthritis in his hands and shoulders as he stared at his outstretched fingers, hands that had been intended for better activities, like veterinary school. He doubted if his stiff joints could even hold a scalpel today. Sitting at the table, he drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, Nate awoke with a jolt. How convenient that he was already dressed with a fresh morning drink that he hadn’t finished the previous night. He drank the flat Coke and whiskey, slipped his coat on, and put on a baseball cap. He walked right past the mirror without glancing since he knew what he looked like would probably be less than desirable. When he got to the stable at the fairgrounds, two men, stomping their feet to stave off the cold, were already lined up with horses. Nate was late again. He mumbled some excuse as he fumbled with the lock and chain of the shop. One guy just handed him a bridle and shook his head. “Well, it sure smells like you’ve had a hearty breakfast, Nate. As Nate struggled with an excuse, clearly neither customer was listening. “He’s a talented ferrier, but a hopeless human being,” one man said. “Loser,” the other said. “No doubt,” the other returned. Nate pretended not to hear them. He felt the heat of embarrassment burning his ears. What would his parents think if they were alive to see their boy today? This wasn’t how he was raised. This wasn’t what he knew was right in his heart. How long could he lead this useless life? He knew he had to make a change and he vowed to do so that very day.
A Different Path
In the ensuing hours, sweat poured from Nate as he dove again and again under the great beasts to perform his skills. He kept the flames stirred and the shop downright hot while the poisons of the previous night poured out of his aging body. He could smell the liquor coming through his skin.
By noon, both horses had been handsomely shod, and Nate had been handsomely paid. He decided to drive into town. At a department store he was fitted for a new suit. But he could sense the disdain of the man who measured him, who clearly smelled the horse and barn odors. Nate made a mental note to wash up properly before coming back for the final fitting. As he made the down payment, he asked the man to pick a nice shirt, tie, and pair of shoes size 10 to go with the suit. He made arrangements to return in a week.
Back at his room, Nate asked the janitor for a couple of garbage bags. He filled them with the built-up trash that covered the tables and chairs, and swept the floor. He wiped the table, the counter, and the end table, and then dusted all of the lamps and surfaces. He replaced all of the burned-out light bulbs. The room glowed and smelled so nice. He stripped the bed and put all of his clothes with the sheets in a pile. Wearing only his bathrobe and work boots, he stomped across the parking lot in the snow and filled an extra-large capacity washer with the load, adding twice the soap usually called for and using all hot water. He hit the “extended wash” button and returned to his room. Standing before a mirror, he decided to give himself a nice, even crew cut and then shaved his whiskers with a razor he hadn’t used in months. He glanced up, forgetting his eyes were so blue and winked. “Not too far gone,” he teased himself. In the shower he scrubbed until the hot water ran out. Emerging from the shower, he opened the medicine cabinet where an unopened bottle of Old Spice had been hurriedly stored last Christmas. He splashed his face, threw his robe on, and took his clothes and sheets out of the washer and put them into two large dryers. The sheets were done quickly, and as the remaining clothes tumbled, he returned to the room, made his bed, and stood back to look at the place. He could feel the energized return of positive thinking, and his spirits soared. He fetched the rest of his clothes and spent the evening mending and trimming some of the ragged edges. He polished his shoes and hung his clothes in the closet.
It was long past dark when he realized he hadn’t eaten all day. He walked over to the bar and sat at his usual spot. “Well, my old friend Nathanial, isn’t it?” Ed asked. Nate smiled slowly and said, “Yeah—that’s right. What’s on the menu tonight?” Ed put both hands on the bar and explained that the “Missus” had made beef stroganoff and it was to die for. “Well, I’ll sure try that,” Nate said. “And a club soda, please, lots of ice.”
“And all this time you were disguised as a loser,” Ed said. Nate choked before he could respond as he remembered that very word had hit so deeply earlier.
“Well,” Nate said, “falling down at some point in life is practically guaranteed—it’s a matter of how long you stay down or how soon you decide to get up, I reckon.”
“Yer daddy tell you that?” Ed inquired.
“I do believe he did, Ed. I do believe he did. Hey, you suppose you and your wife could take a ride into town with me next week? I bought a new suit I gotta pick up, and I’d like to meet up with my little girl Jenny eventually. Maybe your wife could help me pick out a nice little gift. I got a lot of ground to make up. And uh … I might need some ’lookin’ after’ too till I get the hang of this new way of life.”
“Well,” said Ed, “from what I see, you’re off to a great start, partner. And I’d be honored to be a part of setting your train back on the tracks.”
“Much obliged, partner,” Nate said looking down with trembling lips and a timid smile. “Much obliged.”
Pick Up The Pieces
The most thorough attempt to understand what happens to addicts and alcoholics who stay sober was recently completed following an eight-year study of nearly 1,200 addicts (link is external). The sample was so thoroughly traced that the people conducting the survey were able to follow up on over 94 percent of the participants. The following observations were strongly represented:
· Extended abstinence really does predict long-term recovery.
· Only about a third of people who abstain less than a year will remain abstinent.
· For those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse.
· With five years of sobriety, one’s chances of relapse are less than 15 percent.
I find these results encouraging, and what really stands out is that every one of these challenged addicts clearly does better when he or she has a friend who helps them stay in positive environments and away from individuals who drag them back. Please look around and reach out, my friends. Make a difference this year.
Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A. from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.