This month I offer excerpts from my two memoirs, Masterpiece: A Love Story and The Lie Called Cancer. If you want to buy them, you may. If you want a free copy, tell me in the comments.
It was a day exactly like every other day in recent memory. A day made for drinking. A day to be spent in secret.
Limp, drained, devoid of feeling or expectancy, I searched the room, as though to find a clue about how I had come to be there. Nothing. Out the window, the world was slowly stirring. I leaned outside in the humid stillness, puffing on a Marlboro like a man does when he’s killing time waiting for an overdue train.
I felt an anxiety that had nothing to do with what was external to me: the broken promises, the damaged relationships, the unfulfilled potential, the strife, the lack, the emptiness! That anxiety – what woke me – was all internal, and it boiled up inside me with an unexpected urgency of its own. It was all from things long denied and ignored, and I had no control over it any more. It was my brokenness and my inability to glue any two pieces of my life back together. It had fallen apart 40 years earlier.
The burden of the years suddenly pressed down on me and squeezed out words I didn’t expect or intend.
‘God, where are you?’ I heard myself asking. ‘Why are you leaving me like this? Where do I go from here?’
Seemingly against my will I asked God these questions, but didn’t truly crave answers. Answers involve facts, and facts can lead to reason and reasoned arguments can change minds. That’s a dangerous path for a man in denial. It was better to remain unreasoning. New ideas were too painful, and I was tired of pain.
I would have preferred more drinking, but the bottle contained only stale fumes. I had checked vainly out of long habit. The fuel of my life had at long last run dry.
If something else would just come and sweep all of it away, I thought. All of this: the searing emotional pain; the admissions of guilt; the burning of shame; the heartache of vivid failure and of failing others; the oppression of loneliness; the uselessness, and the lies, all those lies. I wanted something other than God to make the change happen. Facts could wait until the wound was drained.
Suddenly it was too late. There came an unspoken Answer to my questions, and it made me shudder.
‘There is nothing left but to swallow whole truth,’ I heard in my mind. It continued to ring in my head as the moment turned more lucid. I fell into a vision, as I did when I was a child. It was startling. I’d forgotten this would happen to me often.
I was lifted out of my body, and I looked down at myself in disgust; I had driven my life very far in the wrong direction (’What would Mom and Dad think if they saw me now?’). I had a vision of the stereotypically hard-headed man who refuses to stop and ask for directions after becoming hopelessly lost. My stubborn pride had taken me off the edge of the map and I was alone in the wilderness.
Or was I?
I watched myself light another cigarette and smoke it, slowly and deliberately. The sky continued to brighten and the cusp came. I saw myself move through a veil that divided the broken world of the motel room from a pure, clean, supernatural world. I saw myself move into a clear and connected place after years of being lost and away. I moved from death to life and waited there.
When the vision ended and I returned into myself, seeing out of my own eyes again, there was no footing, and I fell. Instead of plunging into the abyss I had long feared, I found myself on hands and knees, still in that clean place.
An ambulance keened its call as it hurried past to help some other injured, dying soul. In its wake, the rasping trill of a red-winged blackbird rose up to greet the day and give me encouragement. There was at least one hopeful song available, and so I borrowed it. My childhood bird manual described the red-winged blackbird’s call as ‘konk-uh-REE!, konk-uh-REE!’
Conqueree. A word for me, defined on the spot: ‘One who is overcome by a conqueror’. When I hit the floor in the previous moment, it was a simple act but one of the most difficult in my difficult life. I was unwittingly shoved irrevocably into the world of faith, the way a man is pushed out of the path of an oncoming train.
I had been conquered by alcohol. I was a conqueree, but conquered by the wrong spirit, an evil spirit. (‘If I admit defeat, maybe I’ll be raised up by a better Conqueror,) I thought.4 Maybe I’ll find God, like Matt and the other AA guys had.
(‘God hear me! Help me!’) I shouted in my mind.
(‘Please remove my obsession to drink! I can’t live like this one more minute! Will you help me? If You don’t, I think I’m going to die.’)
His silence pounded in my ears as I waited for an answer.